The nearly 20-year study involved close to 12,000 men and women. Those who did not drink or do any exercise had the highest risk of heart disease, at 49 percent higher than those who drank, exercised or did both.
However, among people who did similar amounts of exercise, those who also drank moderately were 30 percent less likely to develop heart disease than non-drinkers.
Meanwhile, physically active people who drank at least one drink a week had up to 50 percent lower risk than physically inactive non-drinkers.
Past studies have suggested that alcohol may decrease your risk of heart disease by increasing levels of good cholesterol and thinning your blood.
In the study, “moderate” drinking was defined as one to 14 units of alcohol a week, with one unit of alcohol being equal to half a pint of normal strength beer, half of a medium-sized glass of wine, or a single shot of a spirit. Alcohol has recently been singled out as a health tool, of all things, and though studies have linked moderate consumption to reductions in diabetes risk, rheumatoid arthritis, and even dementia, I do not suggest drinking it at all.
Let me repeat myself: Alcohol, despite all of the research showing potential benefits, is not something I recommend drinking.
Because alcohol is a neurotoxin that can poison your brain. It can also leave you more vulnerable to various preventable cancers, even in moderate amounts, and it can harm your body's delicate hormonal balance. Of course, drinking to excess can also cause major health problems, not the least of which is liver damage.
There is one positive side to certain types of alcohol, namely red wine, and that is the powerful plant polyphenols like reservatrol that it contains. Resveratrol is an antioxidant that has been found to extend life, prevent Alzheimer’s disease and inhibit the spread of cancer, and alcohol appears to significantly improve its absorption in your body.
So if you are taking resveratrol supplements and not using some alcohol to increase its absorption, it is likely much of your supplement is not going into your bloodstream but rather is going down the toilet.
That is likely why certain studies show health benefits from drinking red wine. The alcohol itself is not directly helpful, but indirectly it facilitates the absorption of these highly beneficial polyphenols.
Exercise is Always a Wise Choice
Regular physical activity will always be superior to drinking alcohol for your heart health. When combined with a healthy diet, exercise is quite remarkable. It can:
- Help cure diabetes
- Lower your high blood pressure
- Reduce your risk of heart attacks
- Help alleviate depression
Personally, I have been exercising ever since 1968 when I read Dr. Ken Cooper's book Aerobics. Dr. Cooper was a colonel in the Air Force and developed a fitness system for the space program. He actually invented the term "aerobics."
Since then, I have realized that although endurance cardio training is important, it really needs to be part of a more comprehensive, rounded program that includes short bursts of activity at very high intensity that is individualized for your specific fitness level.
The new evidence suggests that this may actually provide MORE protection against heart attacks than long, durational aerobic-type exercises.
Another major benefit of this approach is that it radically decreases the amount of time you spend exercising, while giving you even more benefits. It would be wise to have clearance by your physician if you are not in good shape before embarking on a program like this. However, you could start simply by walking and progress at your own pace.
The take-home message?
Don’t count on alcoholic beverages to keep your heart healthy. Instead, embark on an exercise routine that includes interval-type training, cardio and strength training.
Unlike drinking alcohol, this is a technique that should help nearly anyone who uses it.