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Aerobic exercise may mitigate alcohol consumption, study says

April 16, 2013|By Mary MacVean
  • Aerobic exercise might push back some of the effects of drinking on the brain, researchers say.
Aerobic exercise might push back some of the effects of drinking on the brain,… (Bloomberg )

Running or swimming could help slow some of the damage done to the brain by alcohol, researchers found.

Aerobic exercise was associated with less damage to specific parts of the brain’s white matter, though the researchers could not say how much exercise would balance a night on the town. They reported their findings in an online preview of publication in September’s journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

No surprise here, but the researchers also found the flip side to be the case: Heavy drinking combined with a sedentary life posed risks to brain health.

Substantial, long-term alcohol consumption leads to neural damage similar to the decline as people age, Hollis Karoly, a graduate student at the University of Colorado and one of the researchers, said in a statement.

Karoly and her colleagues looked at information for 60 people, ages 21 to 55,  taken from a database used in studies of alcohol and nicotine use. They were measured for alcohol consumption and issues, exercise and other traits.

The participants had an average of 101 drinks in the previous two months, with 96 minutes of exercise a week. There was no minimum required, so some people had no drinks or no exercise. And nine people showed signs of high levels of problem drinking, the researchers said. The study controlled for smoking.

“This study found that the relationship between alcohol consumption and white matter depends on how much people exercise,” Karoly said. White matter is a part of the nervous system that relays information between areas of the brain.

There could be other influences, the researchers said. First, if people have been exercising for a long time, that could have effects “difficult to disentangle.” In addition, people who exercise may also have healthful diets and better sleep habits than others.

Scientists have already reported that regular aerobic exercise improves learning, memory and self-control.

@mmacvean on Twitter

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