5 Ways Alcohol Can Affect Your Health and Fitness Progress

A Healthier Michigan

| 5 min read

A group of women sitting on a grass field after playing soccer, sharing bottled beers.
The use and overuse of alcohol limits and inhibits your overall level of health and fitness. Alcohol suppresses many of your body’s main functions to different extents and can affect your ability to recover from illness and injury, according to the Frontiers of Psychiatry Journal. Keeping your health and fitness goals in mind when you consume alcohol can help you mitigate the negative effects alcohol can have on overall wellness.

Alcohol can have negative effects on your sleep

According to a 2018 study from the Journal of Medical Internet Research on Mental Health and the Sleep Foundation, drinking even at low levels can negatively affect sleep. The results concluded that having one to two drinks in a day showed a correlation to having up to 9% lower quality of sleep. The quality of sleep dramatically lessens the more drinks an individual consumes, with those studied having more than two drinks in a day seeing almost 40% lower quality sleep.

Alcohol can affect your workout efficiency and recovery

Alcohol has been shown to make endurance training more difficult and less effective, and at a certain level of intoxication, alcohol becomes an obstacle to effective aerobic exercise, according to a 2010 study published by the Nutrients scientific journal.
According to the same studies, while alcohol itself may not directly make recovery and rest after working out more difficult, it has been shown to increase the likelihood of inflammation, which makes it harder for your body to recuperate and heal after a workout. This does not mean you can never have a beer after a run or game, but drinking in excess may correlate with less effective workouts that are harder to get through and recover from.

Alcohol can affect hydration

Alcohol operates as a diuretic in your system, increasing urination, especially if the drinks are 4% alcohol by volume or higher. Alcohol also causes you to respirate and sweat more, which causes more fluid loss. Proper hydration is vital to having effective workouts and preventing injury or exhaustion from exercising. It is also extremely important to the recovery process and avoiding cramps and injury.
One of the best ways to mitigate this effect is to make sure you have one glass of water for each alcoholic drink consumed. This will not negate the dehydrating effect, but it will help with your overall hydration levels. Overall hydration is key to effective workouts and reaching your fitness goals.

Alcohol can add stress to your heart and increase blood pressure

Even though alcohol can sometimes have a relaxing effect on some individuals, consuming it raises heart rates and blood pressure, increasingly with the amount consumed. According to the Cleveland Clinic, alcohol can also have long-term effects on your heart health and blood pressure, especially if you have a family history of these issues. Make sure to be aware of prolonged drinking to drinking to excess, including binge drinking.
Blood pressure and heart rate are elevated during workouts and exercise, and you want them to be at their best. Heart rate should be back to normal levels within 30 minutes after your exercise. It is a warning sign of heart health if your heart rate remains high after exercising, or if it spikes or drops dramatically instead of gradually during exercise.

Alcohol can slow your reaction time and affect your nervous system responses

As a sedative, alcohol directly affects your nervous system, your reaction time and responses, and mental systems like memory and inhibitions. This is one reason why the environment and safety aspects of alcohol consumption, like avoiding driving and operating heavy machinery, are vital.
The size of your body, your metabolic rate, how recently you’ve eaten and how much, and your sex can all change how alcohol affects your nervous system, and for how long the effects are felt, according to Harvard Medical School.
Your nervous system can be overworked by a workout or exercise just like your muscular system can. Having a slowed reaction time and nervous system responses also makes it harder for other systems to recover, including your muscular system. Your body needs to rest and repair after working out, and alcohol can inhibit this recovery.

Can you consume alcohol if you want to be healthier or improve your fitness?

Alcohol consumption in moderation is less likely to have negative effects on your health, exercise and recovery than heavy or regular drinking, according to a University of Houston study. Having less than two drinks for most adults is less likely to have pronounced negative effects on your exercise or fitness the day of, according to a study in New Zealand. Everyone’s health is different, so make sure to discuss your alcohol consumption and how it relates to your health with your care team.

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