The Best Possible Workout if You Like to Drink

exercise while drinking
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

There's nothing wrong with throwing back a few beers with friends, or enjoying a glass of wine with dinner as you unwind after a long day. In fact, light to moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, which is actually pretty great news.

But before you go bottoms up on your sixth whiskey sour, you might want to curb your enthusiasm. Not all alcohol-related news is good (duh); there's an association between light drinking and increased cancer risk.  

So, I guess that brings us to one of the most depressing, if not the most scientifically sound, games of "would you rather" on record: Would you rather avoid alcohol and lose those heart-protecting benefits, or drink up and increase your risk of cancer?

Luckily, there may be a third option!

A study this year found that increased cancer risks associated with moderate drinking were almost completely wiped away when moderate drinkers met or exceeded standard physical activity guidelines. I'd say that gives you permission to have your beer and drink it too -- no depressing "would you rather" game required.

So how do I actually make this (relatively) guilt-free drinking happen?

The key, of course, is to make sure you're actually meeting standard exercise guidelines. The American College of Sports Medicine breaks them into four subcategories: cardiovascular exercise, strength training, flexibility training, and neuromotor training.

The guidelines allow for a lot of flexibility when it comes to planning a weekly routine, but the long list of recommendations can feel overwhelming, especially if you're a busy professional who's already having a hard time fitting in exercise.

Fortunately, they can pretty much be summed up in four bullet points you can (believe it or not) fit into a 30-minute-a-day schedule… even if it seems impossible. The basic guidelines are:

  • Engage in 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity cardio
  • Strength train at least twice a week
  • Stretch at least twice a week
  • Perform exercises that challenge your balance, coordination, and agility

The ultimate drinker's workout routine

The key to scheduling an effective alcohol-canceling workout that still gives you enough free time to meet your friends for happy hour all lies in programming. Certain types of strength training -- particularly circuit workouts -- double as cardio, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

Likewise, neuromotor exercises include any exercise that challenges balance or coordination, enabling you to use strength training or stretching as your neuromotor work. And finally, interval training helps keep your heart rate high, which kicks you up into the high-intensity-training zone, allowing you to spend less total time sweating it out.

If all that explanation still leaves you feeling confused, just follow this weekly workout protocol:

Monday and Thursday: 30-minute low-key cardio workout

Simply choose your favorite form of exercise -- walking, cycling, rowing, stair-climbing -- and get moving. All you need to do is accumulate 30 minutes of cardio at a moderate-intensity pace. This means you should work hard enough to increase your heart rate and breath rate, but you should still be able to carry a conversation.

Tuesday and Friday: 20 minutes of strength and 10 minutes of stretching

This strength-and-stretch combo actually kills four birds with one stone, as the strength routine raises your heart rate and counts as cardio, while the moves you use in both routines count as neuromotor exercises.  

Perform this five-exercise circuit four times through for a total of 20 minutes -- do each exercise for one minute -- then wrap up your workout with a 10-minute full-body stretch like this one or this one.

Wednesday: Interval training and yoga

Wednesday's workout is the most challenging of the week due to its high-intensity element, but the challenge is short-lived at only 20 minutes long. Plus, you get to break it up into two 10-minute segments separated by a challenging, but relaxing 10-minute yoga flow.  

And just like that, you've earned your alcohol. But only in moderation.

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Laura Williams is an exercise physiologist and fitness writer whose been known to chase her weekly workouts with a drink or two. Connect on Twitter @girlsgonesporty.