Do People Who Work Out More Drink More?

By May Wilkerson 12/09/15
The post-workout “high” can leave the brain craving more.
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All that time you spend sweating at the gym might be great for your abs. But it could also be leading to some other bad habits, like making up for those burned calories with some post-workout booze.

A new study from Penn State University found that a lot of people are undoing the effects of their workout by “rewarding” themselves with alcohol. As a result, people who work out tend to drink more.

Exercise produces a rush of adrenaline, often followed by a feeling of euphoria. But this post-workout “high” can leave the brain craving more. The study suggests that people often seek to prolong this buzz by hitting the bottle, harder than they might if they hadn’t worked out at all.

The 150 subjects in the study, both men and women, recorded their drinking and eating habits for a period of 21 days, three times throughout the course of a year. The research team saw a pattern where people drank more alcohol when they worked out. A follow-up study study on lab rats found that both exercise and alcohol activated the same parts of the brain related to reward.

This isn’t the first study to find a link between between drinking and exercise. But it “provided the first evidence of a daily within-person coupling between physical activity and alcohol consumption across the adult lifespan,” said study author David E. Conroy.

This disproves the common assumption that working out would encourage healthier habits in general, or that people would go to the gym in place of hitting the bar. “In contrast to proposals that physical activity (PA) can be a substitute for alcohol use, people who engage in greater overall PA generally consume more alcohol on average than less-active peers,” wrote the study’s authors. Maybe your gym rat friends don’t have a reason to be smug after all.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.