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4 Good Reasons To Go Beyond ‘Dry January’

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Above: A special new year gift from Zip Fit member, Percy, yesterday. Timed to perfection, Percy! Thank you.

Educate yourself about alcohol and change your perceptions.

At this time of year everyone is talking about the effects of alcohol on the body, not least the media. The new figures that have been produced by medical experts once again present us with a set of scare mongering statistics that leave us ordering alcohol free beer, orange squash or soda water (with a piece of lime of course!) as opposed to our usual tipple.

For those who have missed recent articles, here are a few figures published by the Independent:

  • Men are now advised to consume the same weekly amounts as women – 14 units.
  • Drinking more than one glass of wine or beer each day increases the risk of developing cancer.
  • Take bowel cancer in men: if they drink within the guidelines their risk is the same as non-drinking. But if they drink up to the old guidelines an extra 20 men per 1,000 will get bowel cancer.

No wonder ‘dryathon January!’ is the cry from so many after a rather sloshed Christmas. The shock factor is high on the Richter Scale, along with the aftershock of having to change our Sunday breakfast regime upon news of cancer forming bacon and sausages. I heard an announcement on Radio 4 last week about potatoes now posing a risk to pregnant women. The time is near – no doubt – when we see warning signs such as, ‘Sausages can seriously damage your health, you know!’. The problem being (and this is where I feel the Government go wrong when providing this kind of information), that soon all this hype will be forgotten, and what will remain is a slurred whisper between friends at the bar about cancer forming beer. ‘Was it one glass, five or twenty that form cancer? Let’s order another drink and try and gather our thoughts on this one?…barman!’

So soon it will be February and time to grab the bottle and spend the remaining eleven months of 2016 enjoying the health benefits of a red wine or two each night and a good old British binge at the weekend. I have no doubt that professors of risk at our red brick universities have done their sums correctly and understand the health implications of knocking back too much of Grandpa’s cough medicine, but what is hardly ever mentioned or taken in to account is the lifestyle of an individual. Does an extra pint a night for someone who eats their 5 a day, does 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 3 lots of resistance each week and drinks more water than a camel, have the same risk as a person that drinks the same quantity of booze, eats processed food all day, does no exercise at all and couldn’t tell you the difference between a cucumber and marrow? The two hardly seem comparable.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to offer people some useful (but not quite so scary) information about the effects of alcohol on the body, then perhaps we can all make it more of a lifestyle choice to drink a little less this year (not just in January) and try and curb some of those excessive drinking habits.

Alcohol is seriously fattening. 

With seven calories per gram, alcohol has the same calorie content as pure fat. However, it isn’t just the calories in the drink that makes you gain weight. Alcohol reduces the amount of fat your body burns for energy. Because we can’t store alcohol in the body because it is toxic, our system wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible and this process takes priority over absorbing nutrients and burning fat.

According to the NHS, 5 pints a week – the equivalent of 250 pints a year – would be consuming the same amount of calories as someone who got though 221 doughnuts in a year!! I’ll leave you to work out how many doughnuts that would equate to if you’re having a 5 pints a night.

Thirteeen minutes running on a treadmill or playing football or swimming for 20 minutes are what a typical man would have to do to burn off the average 200 calories per pint.

Alcohol and sleep deprivation

Even a couple of drinks can interfere with the normal sleep process. When you drink alcohol close to bedtime, you can go straight into deep sleep, missing out on the usual first stage of sleep, called rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

‘Deep sleep is when the body restores itself, and alcohol can interfere with this,’ explains Dr John Shneerson, head of the sleep centre at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge. ‘As the alcohol starts to wear off, your body can come out of deep sleep and back into REM sleep, which is much easier to wake from. That’s why you often wake up after just a few hours sleep when you’ve been drinking.’

In the course of a night you usually have six to seven cycles of REM sleep, which leaves you feeling refreshed. However, if you’ve been drinking you’ll typically have only one to two, meaning you can wake feeling exhausted.

When you drink more than usual, you may have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. And it’s not just the liquid you’ve drunk that you’ll be getting rid of. Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it encourages the body to lose extra fluid through sweat too, making you dehydrated.

Alcohol and your mood

Alcohol in moderation can raise mood enhancing levels of the chemical serotonin (the hormone produced for sleep and mood regulation), however, in excess the opposite is true. Serotonin levels are massively depleted leading to a negative effect on the brain and body biochemistry. This exacerbates stress, anxiety and depression. Alcohol causes the body to release stress hormones like cortisol and if you already have high levels of this stress hormone, the booze will only make them higher.

Alcohol is also causes the depletion of Vitamin B6 and Folic acid, the nutrients needed for us to be in optimum psychological health, enabling us to cope with stress.

Alcohol and High Blood pressure

Blood pressure is measured by the amount of pressure in your arterial walls during Systolic (pressure when the heart beats) and Diastolic (pressure when the heart relaxes) contractions. This extra and continued pressure can, overtime, cause massive damage to the arterial walls, the heart and the brain.

The exact reasons for High Blood Pressure post-alcohol consumption are unclear, however, there have been numerous experiments that prove alcohol does create short term increases in blood pressure, which further increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Alcoholics all show signs of long term hypertension, however regular drinkers and occasional binge drinkers can reduce these negative effects by reducing their alcohol intake.

Confession time

Yes I’m a personal trainer, but also enjoy a drink and love nothing more that a nice pint. However, over the years I have come to the conclusion that my training, sleep, mood and health are too important to me for them to be ruined by the effects of alcohol. That said, I pick my occasions well, limit myself to a drink every now and again (as opposed to every day or week) and reserve the right, without care or explanation, to have an the occasional binge blip when I’m surrounded by good friends and the mood is right.

A bold headline will capture our imagination, but there is no greater deterrent than the negative associations that can be formed by educating ourselves about alcohol. Read this stuff and, overtime, you will make more of a subconscious resolution to drink a little less each year.

I’m sure we’ll all raise a glass to that!!

Very best

Chris

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