Is that tasty drink at the end of your race your incentive to run?
Over the past few years there has been a dramatic rise in entries in competitive sports races, especially 5ks, 10ks, and half-marathons. It seems that wherever you turn, someone has just completed another race and often, it is someone who is a racing ‘newbie’. I should know, as 2 years ago I completed my first 10K, and shortly thereafter, my first half-marathon. The races kept coming after that, and just under 3 months ago, I completed my second half marathon. What I found to be interesting though, was that at the end of my half, I was rewarded with an ice cold beer. What? Beer? Shouldn’t you be hydrating after a long run? The answer is yes, you should, but beer has also been on the rise as a post-run refreshment. As I read recently in The New York Times for many people, there is a link between moderate alcohol consumption and exercise. But is alcohol a motivator for exercise? Is alcohol a variable that leads to physical activity promotion? Or do those extra few calories burned by exercising encourage people to have that drink? Until now, the data has had mixed results.
Previously, studies have demonstrated that those who engage in more physical activity also tend to be those who consume more alcohol. However, many of the previous studies relied on participant’s memory to record their consumption and activity levels through questionnaires and surveys, and are filled with cognitive errors and recall bias. In order to perhaps get a new perspective, researchers at Penn State University took a sample of 150 adults (ages 19-89) who were already part of a lifetime study and had them to complete a daily diary for 21 days. They recorded their alcohol consumption and physical activity each day for 21 days, and did the same 21-day session 3 times throughout the year, to account for fluctuations of exercise in different seasons. The participants logged their data via an app on their cell phones. In the study, the researches controlled for age, sex, seasons and social calendar influences. The results showed that daily deviations in physical activity were significantly associated with daily total alcohol use. However, this does not imply causality, and further research needs to be done to find that link.
While this study does demonstrate there is a strong link between exercise and alcohol consumption, the participants are not representative of the general U.S. population as a whole. Think about it- what are the demographics of the participants you typically see running these competitive races? At least for me, most of the people that I know and see partaking are low-risk, middle-class, white men and women, who generally range from young adult to middle-aged. The study also didn’t account for these differences, particularly for high-risk, heaving drinkers or those from a diverse population. Another important detail of the study that was limiting was that the researchers primarily recorded exercise frequency, not duration or intensity. So, despite the fact that participants increased their exercise frequency, they also increased their alcohol consumption. How cardio-protective is that, if you are only exercising with minimal effort? Due to the fact that there are so many interpersonal factors that play into this type of research, it is hard to concretely determine what the link is between exercise and alcohol consumption and what is the causal factor. As for me, I think I will continue to run for beer, at least in moderation.