January 6, 2011

A Rat’s Teachings on Drinking and Exercise

As I mentioned in my last post, I read everything I can get my hands on when it comes to diet and exercise. But show me a study on drinking and exercise, and not only do I read it, I’m glued to it! Welcome to Absolut(ly) Fit.

This morning, a friend sent me an article on a potential link between exercise and drinking: studies showed that the more people drank, the more they exercised. I thought this made perfect sense, with my first reaction being the main one the researchers came up with: people were trying to compensate for the extra calories gained through drinking. Alcohol is extremely caloric, and it stands to reason that if you’re committed to your health yet still drinking, you’ll do your best to mitigate the effects.

Furthermore, researchers proposed that among humans, they could have been socializing and drinking after participating in organized group sports. This explanation too made a lot of sense. Hashing sure is popular (though I’ve never been because I’m too scared of the dirty nicknames to go alone – any NYC-area hashers want to invite me to join them?), many sports leagues and running groups offer bar nights after the workout is done, and our good friends Viper, Jamoosh, and Frank have often shown us that the best way to recover from a workout is with a pint of great beer (Adam would argue it’s wine, but that’s another story). Plus, if you assume that those who play sports will also be into watching sports, you can add in all those Sunday afternoons spent watching the football game at your favorite dive bar. Ah, America, how I love you for being a land where you can’t have your national sport without a beer alongside.

However, all of this presupposes a thinking being who makes the connection between alcohol calories and exercise burning them off, or is able to purchase a six pack to go along with that baseball game. What happens when you give a rat a hamster wheel for two weeks, and then allow him access to all the alcohol he wants? Despite the lack of thinking about all those other reasons I outlined above, he consumes more alcohol than the lazy rats who just sat around for two weeks.

(While the study doesn’t explicitly say this, I assume that both rats were given quantities of non-alcoholic food and drink – so it wasn’t just that the exercising rats were going in search of calories that they happened to find in the alcohol. The way the study is worded doesn’t seem to invite the possibility that the rats were just hungry after working out so hard, which is the obvious solution. No, there is something about the alcohol that makes the rats want that, specifically.)

By studying the parts of the brain that are engaged, researchers found that drinking and exercising both preferentially alter activity in “the mesocorticolimbic neural circuitry,” which is the part of the brain associated with reward. So the rats enjoyed both the drinking and the exercise – when the exercise was taken away, they sought that pleasurable feeling from drinking. (I wonder if this is the same phenomenon that encourages scummy guys to seek sex when the bartender does last call?)

So what can we learn from all this? The researchers conclude that if you’re going to drink, it’s better if you exercise too. As we all know, binge drinking kills brain cells – but these savvy researchers found that we lose fewer brain cells from drinking if we also exercise. They even refer to the exercising as “neuroprotection” for your boozy brain. I’ll take it!

In conclusion:
1. Run more
2. Drink more

That’s all. Happy Thursday!


7 thoughts on “A Rat’s Teachings on Drinking and Exercise”

  1. Knowledge is power! During the week a specific level of exercise is required to get my reward beer. Last night I exercised but did not get a beer. Tonight will be a different story!

  2. Personally, I think it’s a leap to make conclusions on human behavior based on a caged experiment with rats. It’s interesting, but there are so many other factors that goes into what makes people who exercise drink more than just the issue of access. That’s just my opinion, but hey if it leads people to drink more and run more…I’m all for it 🙂

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