If your ideal Saturday activities involve some combination of spin class or running, followed by a boozy brunch or beer garden, you’re not alone. A new study published in the journal Health Psychology reveals that we tend to drink more alcohol on days we work out — especially Thursday through Saturday.
Study author David E. Conroy, a professor of preventive medicine and deputy director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, says the fitness-booze connection is surprising, because fit people usually maintain pretty healthy lifestyles.
“If someone is very active, they tend to eat reasonably well, and they tend not to smoke. But with physical activity and alcohol, the direction is actually the opposite,” Conroy says. “[In previous studies,] people who were more active were the ones who drank the most.”
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“The same day people are more active, they are also drinking more.”
To better understand the connection between drinking and sweating, Conroy and his fellow researchers designed an experiment involving 150 healthy men and women, ages 18 to 89. Every day, each person logged his or her physical activity and alcohol consumption using a smartphone app. Previous studies had relied on data gathered once a month, or once every six months, likely skewing results based on how well participants remembered their habits.
The data showed some unique findings. Unlike earlier research, which had indicated that fit people drank larger quantities of booze overall, this new research demonstrated that active people were simply drinking most of their alcohol on days when they also worked out. “The same day people are more active, they are also drinking more,” Conroy says. “The alternative was [thinking that] people might be more active during the week and drink more on weekends, but that’s not the case — it really is the same day.”
Why You Drink More Post-Workout
Though it’s unclear why this link exists, the researchers have some theories. “One of them is that when you do something good for yourself, like exercising, you give yourself a reward — you reward yourself for exercising by drinking more,” Conroy says. “Another possibility is that you use all your self-discipline and willpower to get yourself to be active; you’re depleting your willpower and won’t have enough to resist temptation afterwards.”
Yet another hypothesis is that people who exercise more drink more alcohol because physical activity is often social. In other words, it’s hard to resist participating in your intramural kickball team’s post-game outing to the bar.
And it wasn’t just young people boozing up on gym days, either. “We actually found that the effects seem to cross the lifespan,” Conroy says, meaning older folks are just as guilty of reaching for a drink after breaking a sweat.
While too much boozing could be bad for your waistline and overall fitness, only about 35 percent of the participants had a day of heavy drinking throughout the course of the 63-day study. In most cases, people consumed one alcoholic beverage for every two exercise sessions lasting 10 minutes or more.
Though this study didn’t examine how grabbing a beer post-gym could impact health, Conroy says he and his team will continue to explore the connection. “We’ll be looking at some of the mechanisms linking these behaviors — is it a social process? Ego depletion? Or is it that people reward themselves and give themselves permission to indulge?”
Are you more likely to grab a beer on a gym day than on a rest day? Tell us in the comments section.