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Exercise may help protect the brain from effects of heavy drinking

Category: Liver Diseases

Alcohol consumption can affect both the mind and body, making regular lab tests important for regular drinkers. Recently, a team of researchers from the University of California, San Francisco discovered another way that people who imbibe can help protect their health: exercise.

The scientists discovered that heavy drinkers who exercised regularly experienced less damage to their brains' white matter than those who did not work out often, or at all.

Alcohol is dangerous, exercise may help
The scientists were inspired to conduct the study because of past research which showed that regular aerobic exercise may boost learning, memory and self-control. Furthermore, physical activity has also been shown to help protect the white matter in the brain, which can be damaged due to aging, various diseases and heavy drinking.

After examining 70 individuals, the researchers discovered that the relationship between alcohol and white matter damage was not as strong in people who reported that they exercise often as it was in those who did not.

"Although we don't know yet if the exercise is protecting against alcohol-related damage, or if it is a sign of factors linked to brain health, this is a very compelling study. This suggests that individuals who have experienced alcohol-related brain problems could possibly use exercise to help recover those effects; studying people over time will tell us if this is in fact the case," said researcher Susan Tapert, chief of psychology at the VA San Diego, and professor of psychiatry at University of California.

Be wary of drinking more
While this study highlights the benefits of exercise, people who have a drinking problem also need to realize that working out may lead to them drinking more. According to a 2011 article published by The New York Times, studies have shown that rats who exercised and were then given unlimited access to alcohol had a greater urge to drink than those who were around the alcohol but did not get physical activity.

These findings should encourage past and current heavy drinkers to get exercise, but work hard to resist the urge to drink more after a workout. Also, even if the brain may be partially protected from the effects of drinking by exercise, the liver is still experiencing a great deal of damage, so people who drink should get regular blood tests to check their liver function.

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