Exercise vs. Alcohol for Heart Health (Which is Better?)

Exercising is good for heart health. So is drinking alcohol (beer, wine and liquor or spirits) in moderation. Which wins in an exercise vs. alcohol for heart health contest? Or can we substitute one for the other?

exercise vs. alcohol for heart healthTo see if exercise and moderate alcohol consumption are interchangeable, Researchers at the National Institute of Public Health in Denmark wanted to know. Therefore, they studied about 12,000 men and women over a period of 20 years.

The medical researchers had three major findings.

      • The lowest risk of fatal heart disease occurred among those who both drank moderately and exercised. They had a 50% reduced risk in comparison with non-drinkers who didn’t exercise. (Researchers defined moderate drinking as having an average of up to two drinks per day for both men and women. This is twice as high as the US federal guideline for women.)
      • A higher risk was found among two groups. First, those who abstained from alcohol but exercised.  And second, those who drank in moderation but didn’t exercise. In both cases the risk of heart disease dropped about 30% in comparison with 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.

exercise vs. alcohol for heart healthThe medical research indicates that moderate drinking and exercising are not interchangeable. Instead, they 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. Doing so greatly reduces the risk death from heart attack. The same was also found for all-cause mortality

Some people should not drink for various reasons. Therefore the researchers note that “physical activity can reverse some of the adverse health effects associated with alcohol abstention.”

Resources: Exercise vs. Alcohol for Heart Health

Web Pages

When Non-drinkers Begin to Drink, Cardiovascular Disease Risk Drops

Benefits of Moderate Drinking Result from Alcohol Itself

Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease: Moderate Drinking is Protective.  

Effects of Alcohol on Risk of Strokes and Heart Attacks (Health Facts).       

Drinking and Coronary Artery Disease Risk in US Veterans: Effects of Alcohol.   

Lifestyle and Cardiovascular Disease & Mortality among Middle-Aged & Older Women.  


Am Heart Assn. Controlling Your Risk Factors. NY: AHA, 2019.

Ganzit, G. and Stefanini, L. Cardiovascular Diseases and Physical Activity. Torino : SEEd, 2012.

Kokkinos, P. Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Prevention. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2010.

Purcell, J., et al. Heart Attack. What’s Ahead? A Guide for Heart Attack Survivors and Those Who Love Them. Atlanta: Pritchett & Hull, 2012.

Turner, G., et al. Recognizing and Surviving Heart Attacks and Strokes. Lifesaving Advice You Need Now. Columbia: U of Missouri Press, 2008.


Pedersen, J. et al. The combined influence of leisure-time physical activity and weekly alcohol intake on fatal ischaemic heart disease and all-cause mortality. Euro Heart J, 2008, 29(2), 204-212.