Heartening news for tipplers - moderate drinking plus exercise the key to a long life!

The latest research is adding to the growing body of evidence which suggests that moderate amounts of alcohol offer health benefits.

According to the new research the heartening news is that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol and are physically active have a lower risk of death from heart disease and other causes than people who are teetotal.

The Danish researchers say people who neither drink alcohol nor exercise have a 30-49 per cent higher risk of heart disease than those who either drink, exercise or do both.

The study is the first to examine the combined influence of leisure-time physical activity and weekly alcohol intake on heart disease.

The team of researchers used data from a the Copenhagen City Heart Study taken between 1981-1983 on various health-related issues such as exercise and alcohol intake.

The information concerned 11,914 Danish men and women aged 20 or older and it was found that during 20 years of follow-up there were 1,242 cases of fatal ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and 5,901 deaths from all causes among the study participants.

The research was supervised by Professor Morten Gronbaek, Director of Research of the National Institute of Public Health at the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen, and Professor Berit Heitmann, Director for Research of the Institute of Preventive Medicine at Copenhagen University Hospitals.

They say the study shows that for both men and women being both physically active and drinking a moderate amount of alcohol is important for lowering the risk of both fatal IHD and death from all causes and drinking alcohol was associated with a lower risk of fatal IHD than abstaining.

They say a weekly moderate alcohol intake reduced the risk of all-cause mortality among both men and women, whereas the risk among heavy drinkers was similar to non-drinkers.

The lead author of the study, Jane Ostergaard Pedersen, a research assistant at the National Institute of Public Health, says physical activity can reverse some of the adverse health effects associated with alcohol abstention.

Three levels of physical activity, were established from virtually none to engaging in heavy exercise for between two and four hours each week and at all exercise levels non-drinkers fared worse with a 30% to 31% higher risk of heart disease compared with moderate drinkers.

Moderate drinking was defined as fewer than 14 units of alcohol a week - a unit is equated to one bottle of beer, one glass of wine or one measure of spirits; a 175ml glass of wine contains 2.3 units; heavy drinkers drank 15 or more a week.

The researchers say the safest combination was moderate drinking and physical activity and those who drank at least one drink a week and kept active had a 44% to 50% lower risk of heart disease compared with inactive non-drinkers.

They suggest alcohol acts to reduce the amount of "bad cholesterol" in the blood, which causes heart disease.

The research is published in the current issue of the European Heart Journal.

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