Exercise, Alcohol and Heart Health/Fatal Heart Attacks

Exercising is good for heart health and drinking alcohol (beer, wine and liquor) in moderation is too. So can we substitute one for the other?

To see if exercise and moderate alcohol consumption are interchangeable, researchers at the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark studied about 12,000 men and women over a period of 20 years.
The medical investigators found:

  • The lowest risk of fatal heart disease occurred among those who both drank moderately and exercised. They had a 50% reduced risk compared to non-drinkers who didn't exercise. (Moderate drinking was defined as consuming an average of up to two drinks per day for both men and women. This is twice as high as the US federal recommendation for women.)
  • A higher risk was found among (a) those who abstained from alcohol but exercised and (b) those who drank in moderation but didn't exercise. In both cases the risk of heart disease dropped about 30% compared to abstaining non-exercisers.
  • The highest risk was found among those who neither drank nor exercised. Their risk of dying from heart disease was twice as high as those who drank moderately and exercised.

The medical research indicates that moderate drinking and exercising are not interchangeable but are cumulative in their positive effects on the cardiovascular system. Doing one is better than nothing, but doing both is the best choice of all and dramatically reduces the risk death from heart attack. The same was also found for all-cause mortality

Some people should not drink because of alcoholism, pregnancy or other reasons. Therefore the researchers note that "As there might be good reasons for alcohol abstention, it is important that physical activity can reverse some of the adverse health effects associated with alcohol abstention."


  • Pedersen, Jane Østergaard, Berit Lilienthal Heitmann, Berit, Schnohr, Peter, and Grønbæk, Morten. The combined influence of leisure-time physical activity and weekly alcohol intake on fatal ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality. European Heart Journal, 2008, 29(2), 204-212.

Filed Under: Heart