Moderate Drinkers Appear to Run a Lower Risk of Mobility Problems Than Non-Drinkers - Primarily Because They Have Healthier Lifestyles
A growing number of studies suggest that people who drink a moderate amount of alcohol - up to one drink a day for women, and up to two for men - may have better health than those who drink no alcohol. Several studies, for example, have found that light to moderate drinking is associated with a significantly lower risk of heart disease and related health problems. Research has also found that moderate drinkers run lower risks of death from all causes, mostly because moderate drinking lowers the risk of heart attacks and related health problems.
More recently, researchers have conducted studies that suggest that moderate drinkers may also run a lower risk of age-associated health problems such as declining function, which makes it harder to get around and do everyday activities. It's not clear, though, whether moderate drinking itself is responsible for this lower risk. Another possibility is that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol run lower risks of declining function because, in addition to drinking moderately, they also do other things like exercising regularly that help maintain physical functioning. Yet another possibility is that people who drink moderately have better physical functioning because they tend to be healthier than people who don't drink or drink only occasionally. In fact, research shows that people who are in poor health are less likely to drink alcohol than those in better health.
New Research in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
To get a better sense of why moderate drinkers appear to run lower risks of age related health problems such as declining function, researchers recently studied more than 3,000 older adults. At the start of the study the adults were 70- to 79-years old and they were all in relatively good shape. They had no life-threatening illnesses, and they had no significant difficulty getting around or doing daily activities. They could, among other things, walk 1/4 mile and climb 10 steps without difficulty.
At the start of the study, the researchers asked the adults how much alcohol they drank and how often. At both the start of the study and every six months for roughly 6 and a half years, the researchers also checked how well the adults could get around and mange daily activities.
Compared with the adults who never or only occasionally drank alcohol at the beginning of the study, those who were moderate drinkers ran a considerably lower risk of developing either "mobility limitation" (some difficulty getting around) or mobility disability (significant difficulty getting around) over the course of the study. This was the case even when the researchers took into account differences in age, gender, race, smoking habits and other factors that can affect mobility. But when the researchers took into account differences in lifestyle factors -- such as education, income, physical activity, and weight -- the difference in risk of mobility problems between moderate drinkers and non- or occasional drinkers was significantly smaller. Other studies have found that more years of education, higher income, more frequent physical exercise, and a healthy weight are associated with improved physical functioning. These "results suggest that the reported protective effect of moderate alcohol intake on the likelihood of functional limitation mostly reflects the healthier lifestyle of subjects who consumer alcohol at moderate levels," the researchers report in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
What Should I Do?
While people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol appear to run lower risks of certain health problems, you don't need to drink to enjoy good health. There are other things you can do -- such as eat a healthy diet, exercise, and see your healthcare provider regularly -- that can also boost your odds of enjoying good health. In addition, drinking too much alcohol can lead to alcohol abuse.
The summary above is from the full report titled, "Moderate Alcohol Intake and Risk of Functional Decline: The Health, Aging, and Body Composition Study." It is in the October 2009 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 57, Issue 10). It is authored by Cinzia Maraldi, MD; Tamara B.Harris, MD, MS; Anne B. Newman , MD, MPH; Stephen B.Kritchevsky, PhD; Marco Pahor, MD; Annemarie Koster, PhD; Suzanne.Satterfield, MD, DrPH; Hilsa N. Ayonayon, PhD; Renato Fellin, MD; and Stefano Volpato, MD, MHP.