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Heavy drinkers exercise to 'make up for it'

Campaign warns that a trip to the gym doesn’t make up for heavy drinking

OnMedica Staff

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Millions of adults think that after a heavy drinking session they can "burn off" the damage by exercising or playing sport, a new survey by YouGov has found.

The survey, done in England last week on behalf of the "Know Your Limits" campaign, found that 19% of adults who exercise regularly and drink alcohol say that they will exercise or play sport to compensate for heavy drinking in the previous few days.

A fifth (20%) of adults in the survey are drinking more than double the alcohol limits recommended by the NHS, and of those who also exercise, 28% do so in the misguided belief that it will make up for their heavy alcohol consumption.

People who drink lower amounts of alcohol, within the NHS recommended limits (3-4 units daily for men and 2-3 units for women), and who exercise, are much less likely to exercise to compensate for drinking – only 10% do so.

GP and broadcaster Dr Carol Cooper is supporting the Know Your Limits campaign, and is worried that people may think going for a run or a swim can simply undo any damage caused by over-indulgence in alcohol. She said: “Regular exercise is vital for staying healthy, so on the one hand it is encouraging that so many heavy drinkers recognise their drinking habits aren’t good for them, and that they want to make up for it by taking exercise.

“But people need to be aware that regularly drinking double the recommended limits comes with health risks that can’t simply be burnt off down the gym, in the pool, or on the football pitch.”

The Department of Health is working with the fitness industry to warn of the health dangers of heavy drinking, and to clarify the fact that exercise cannot prevent those problems.

Nearly 500 gyms and sports centres in England are joining in a month-long campaign to promote the message that regularly drinking too much alcohol can have a negative impact on people’s exercise and fitness goals as well as their long-term health, leading to five times the risk of mouth cancer and three times the risk of stroke compared with non-drinkers. They are encouraging people to keep drink diaries to get a realistic idea of their alcohol consumption, and to recognise what their limits are.

Fitness First UK’s National Fitness Manager, Derek Crawford, said: “We understand that people like to socialise and have a drink, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However it makes sense to monitor the unit consumption over a period of time because if the consumption exceeds the recommended units, this may have an adverse affect on a person’s fitness performance not to mention their overall health and wellbeing.”

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