For good health, stand up and drink several beers a day

First, an update on two financial/health-related resolutions I made a few months back:

I blogged that I would stop drinking coffee and gradually reduce my caffeine consumption. Well, I’ve eliminated coffee, except when my wife craves some on the weekends. But I’m not eliminating caffeine. I’m drinking a fair amount of green tea, which may be good for me and probably isn’t bad. It’s also quite cheap, since my in-laws brought giant bags back with them from China earlier this year. And unlike coffee, with its messy grinds, I can make and clean up tea quite quickly.

I also blogged that sitting down is killing us. I’ve had mixed results with standing up. When I remember to do it, I’m quite good. Some days, I stand all day long. Other days, I sit all day. And I do think I feel better — and a bit tired — after standing all day. I wish I had a desk that could easily go up and down. Instead, I stick an empty 56-quart plastic container between my desk and laptop because it’s about the right height and gives me a reasonably large working surface. Far from ideal, but doing it every other day or so probably helps.

A new American Cancer Society study provides even more evidence that sitting down is killing us. The Chicago Tribune reports:

a new study that tracked more than 100,000 adults for 14 years… [by] the American Cancer Society in Atlanta followed 53,000 men and 70,000 women and asked them to fill out questionnaires about their physical activity.

Even after adjusting for body mass index (BMI) and smoking, the researchers found that women who sit more than 6 hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die than those who sit less than 3 hours; for men, long-sitters were 17 percent more likely to die.

People who exercise regularly had a lower risk, but still significant, risk of dying. Those who sat a lot and moved less than three and a half hours per day are the most likely to die early: researchers found a 94 percent increased risk for women and 48 percent increase for men, they announced recently in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Of course, less healthy people are likely to sit more, so it’s not cause-and-effect. But it’s a strong enough correlation for me to want to sit less.

Now, the exciting beer news:

A study of 1,824 adults ages 55 to 65 found that moderate and heavy drinkers were less likely to die than abstainers over a 20-year span, according to researchers at the University of Texas in Austin and Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Moderate drinkers were defined as those who have one to fewer than three drinks daily, with heavy drinkers having three or more alcoholic beverages a day, according to the study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

The results refuted a common criticism of previous similar findings about drinking and longevity that results were skewed because researchers included former problem drinkers with poor health in the abstainers’ group. The Texas and Stanford authors found that, even after excluding results from past problem drinkers and people with poor health status such as obesity, moderate drinkers still lived longer than nondrinkers, they said.

“Importantly, any health-protective effects of alcohol appear to be limited to regular moderate drinking,” wrote the study authors, led by Charles Holahan, a psychology professor at the University of Texas. “Heavy episodic drinking — even when average consumption remains moderate — is associated with increased cardiovascular risk.”

Overall, older adults who didn’t drink at all had a 49 percent greater risk of dying during the 20 years of the study than those who drank moderately, the researchers found. Heavy drinkers had a 42 percent increased risk of dying compared with moderate drinkers, the study found.

A 49% greater risk of dying is quite a difference!

My wife didn’t appreciate this study’s research finding. She couldn’t quibble with the researchers, since she considers Stanford the best and most wonderful university in the whole world. So she rationalized that it must have been funded by big alcohol. But it wasn’t. It was paid for by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

If you’re not prone to alcoholism, drinking a couple beers a day might actually do your body some good. I have no idea why this might be so. But this data is pretty astonishing.

And the statistical benefits of alcohol go beyond longer life. SeniorJournal.com reports:

Sixty-eight studies of 145,303 people confirm positive impact of alcohol on mental ability

The results of this study support findings from previous research on the topic: In the last three decades, the association between moderate alcohol intake and cognitive function has been investigated in 68 studies comprising 145,308 men and women from various populations with various drinking patterns.

Most studies show an association between light to moderate alcohol consumption and better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia, including both vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Such effects could relate to the presence in wine of a number of polyphenols (antioxidants) and other micro elements that may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline with ageing. Mechanisms that have been suggested for alcohol itself being protective against cognitive decline include effects on atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), coagulation (thickening of the blood and clotting), and reducing inflammation (of artery walls, improving blood flow).

Again, this does not prove causation. But it’s suggestive that moderate alcohol consumption may provide a range of health benefits.

Posted by James on Tuesday, August 31, 2010