Even moderate levels of exercise prevent some of the detrimental effects of drinking alcohol, such as the increased risk of dying from cancer. The findings are particularly relevant to colon cancer, as alcohol is one of the best-known risk factors for developing this type of tumor.
Since moderate alcohol consumption is widespread, focusing on interventions improving the levels of physical activity could prevent hundreds of cancer-related deaths each year.
The study, “Does physical activity moderate the association between alcohol drinking and all-cause, cancer and cardiovascular diseases mortality? A pooled analysis of eight British population cohorts,” was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Researchers from the University of Sydney analyzed data gathered in eight large U.K. health surveys, which were carried out between 1994 and 2006. They found that drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol was linked to a 38 percent greater risk of dying from any cancer, and a 13 percent higher risk of death from any cause.
Among those who drank hazardous levels, the risk was increased by 74 percent.
Looking separately at groups who exercised or did not exercise, the researchers found that the more people exercised, the lower the risk of dying of both cancer and other conditions.
Among people who were physically active who exercised with moderate intensity between 150 to 300 or more minutes per week, only harmful levels of alcohol were linked to an increased risk of dying of cancer.
“Our research suggests that physical activity has substantial health benefits even in the presence of potentially unhealthy behaviors such as drinking alcohol,” Emmanuel Stamatakis, senior author of the study and a professor at the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney, said in a news release.
The study divided people according to their drinking habits in these categories: never drinkers, ex-drinkers, moderate drinkers (up to 17 standard drinks a week for men, 11 for women), hazardous drinkers (17-39 standard drinks a week for men, 11-29 for women), and harmful drinkers (more than 39 drinks a week for men and 29 for women).
One Australian standard drink is equivalent to a 0.7 U.S. standard drink and 1.3 U.K. standard drinks.
“We cannot suggest that doing some exercise is a licence to drink more alcohol, as alcohol abuse causes significant health and societal damage,” Stamatakis said.
“But given that so many people do drink alcohol, our study gives yet another compelling reason to encourage and empower people to be physically active and ask policy makers to invest in physical activity-friendly environments,” he said.