Monday, January 14, 2008
Trading exercise for alcohol?
by A. Chris Gajilan
Medical News Senior Producer
We all know that exercise is good for your heart. In addition, most of you probably already know that drinking moderately is better than no drinking at all when it comes to your health, and more specifically your ticker. But did you know that exercise and drinking alcohol lower your coronary heart disease risk in similar ways?
Exercise and alcohol drinking basically work through the same properties. They both raise your good/HDL cholesterol and lower your bad/LDL cholesterol. According to Dr. Arthur Klatsky, cardiologist and researcher at Kaiser Permanente Northern California, "They do operate on good cholesterol HDL (high density lipoproteins). It acts like Drano to clean out the pipes. It takes away bad LDL cholesterol where it may be deposited like in blood vessel walls. The higher the level of HDL, the less likely it is that a person has vascular disease. The lower the levels of HDL, vascular disease becomes more likely."
Based on this effect, Danish researchers wanted to find out whether you can swap one for the other when it came to the cardiovascular benefit. "If you don't want to exercise too much, can you trade it for one to two drinks per day and be fine?" asked Dr. Morten Gronbaek, epidemiologist at the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark.
Not surprisingly, his team's study published in the latest issue of the European Heart Journal didn't find that alcohol and exercise were interchangeable, but rather they had a compounded, additional effect together. In an observational study of almost 12,000 people followed for 20 years, this is what researchers found: Moderate drinking exercisers had a 50 percent reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared with abstainers who didn't exercise. Among those who were tee-totaling exercisers, there was a 30 percent decreased risk. A similar 30 percent decreased risk goes for moderately drinking couch potatoes. All in all, those who didn't drink and didn't exercise had double the risk for heart disease as those who did exercise and drink moderately.
But this changes with age. "The new thing about this study is that physical activity and light to moderate alcohol intake in middle-aged and elderly people are both preventive and independent from one another," says Dr. Gronbaek.
I'm sure many of you may be asking - what level is considered moderate? Moderate drinking was considered one to 14 drinks per week in this study. The observational study was based on surveys and did not distinguish between type of drink (wine vs. beer) or serving size (pint vs. shot). Dr. Gronbaek says the optimal level for women at risk of coronary heart disease is one drink per day and one to two drinks per day for men.
But hold on - age is a huge factor. "You wouldn't advise everyone to drink," says Dr. Gronbaek. "You shouldn't even think about doing it until age 45 or 50 because the prevention of coronary heart disease is only relevant until this age for most people. There's absolutely no proof of a preventative and protective effect before age 45."
Have you added a daily drink or two to your diet to keep your heart healthy? Would you consider it?
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