Study: The More Active You Are, the More Alcohol You Drink

That's according to surprising new research from The Cooper Institute in Dallas

A man running a race dressed as a beer.
The fittest among us are the most likely to put back an extra pint.
NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images

According to a recent study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, men with higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are more than twice as likely to drink a “moderate amount” of alcohol (up to 14 drinks per week) than their less fit peers.

Researchers at The Cooper Institute in Dallas assessed the data of nearly 40,000 Americans, who regularly completed aerobic treadmill tests at the Cooper Clinic and answered questions about exercise and drinking habits. The research, concluded, rather decisively, that the country’s fittest men and women tend to drink more. And that trend continued all the way up the ladder — “heavy drinkers” (men who take in more than 15 drinks a week) also displayed a higher likelihood of physical fitness.

If these results seem fairly surprising to you, you’re not alone. The researchers themselves are struggling to understand the correlation and plan to investigate a number of hypotheses. After all, fit people are not more likely to smoke cigarettes, eat fast food or entertain a range of other vices that may interfere with their training. (As The New York Times points out, this is a behavioral pattern known as habit clustering. Generally, healthy choices beget healthy choices.)

Still, while we know that drinking is not a healthy choice, it certainly is a social one. Consider the “game and a pint” traditions of intramural teams, or the close association between running clubs and local microbreweries. It’s possible that active, out-and-about people more frequently find themselves in situations where alcohol is present. There’s also the elegant justifications that working out can bring: since I went to that class, I deserve X.

As of yet, there isn’t any scientific link between someone’s fitness and their ability (or desire) to drink more alcohol. That said, alcohol and exercise do light up a similar “reward center” of the brain, suggesting that people who go for a successful four-mile run may want to keep the high going when they get home by putting back four beers.

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