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Monday, January 11, 2021

Dry January: Can it benefit hobby runners? The answer may surprise you

Most professional athletes abstain from alcohol completely. It’s common knowledge that alcohol is not the drink of choice to keep our bodies in top form. But most of us aren’t professional athletes and it is well-known that runners love to grab a beer after a work-out. In Germany, even a type of beer, the Radler, was named after this past-time. So if we are conscious enough of our health to incorporate regular exercise into our lifestyle and keep our culinary indulgences in line, does it really buy us much to give up alcohol for a month? The answer is an overwhelming, Yes!

After the Christmas parties (ok, not this year) and overindulgences at the holidays, many of us eat and drink too much and exercise less, leaving us feeling sluggish and lethargic when the new year rolls around. We make New Years’ resolutions to join a gym, lose weight or some other positive health goal, and this is essentially how Dry January was born.

Dry January is a public health campaign, which originated in the UK in about 2014 but is now practiced to varying degrees throughout the world, aimed at encouraging people to abstain from alcohol for the entire month. A whopping 20% of drinkers in the UK report to take part in Dry January, many with the intentions of kicking the habit for good. But regardless of the end goals, many studies have shown that even short-term abstinence from alcohol can improve health. 

Some immediate benefits that have been reported include:

• Reduced resting heart rate

• Improved heart rate variability (HRV)

• Reduction in triglycerides and ApoB, indicating an improvement in cardiovascular health

• Reduction in blood sugar level

• Reduction in the thyroid-stimulating hormone, which improves thyroid function

• Improved sleep

• Increased vitamin D stores

• Decreased liver enzymes (better liver function)

• Improved brain function, e.g. mental clarity, thought processing, and decision-making

• Decreased risk of some types of cancer

While all of these health benefits can contribute to better physical fitness and potentially contribute to reaching that new PR, the one factor that may be the most beneficial is the regenerative effect of improved sleep. Many people believe that a drink or two at night helps them to get a good night’s sleep, and in fact, it does help us to fall asleep faster, but it then subsequently disrupts our sleep patterns by reducing our restorative REM time, which is the best medicine for muscles that need to recuperative after a tough work-out.

And these improvements are not only seen amongst heavy drinkers, but even those who refrain from drinking during the week, only to have a couple of drinks on the weekends.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shift in drinking patterns and alcohol abuse has been shown to be on the rise, particularly amongst women, with stress, anxiety and isolation being some of the contributing factors. 

So although January is already in full swing, it’s not too late to give it a try (of course it can be done in February, March or anywhere in between too) and make your own personal experience even if it is only to relay an interesting story down the road over a post-run beer with your running buddies. 


Gigen Mammoser (2020) Say ‘Cheers!’ to Dry January with These 8 Easy Tips. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/tips-to-make-your-dry-january-successful?

Scott Tindal (2021) A Nutritionist Shares What a Month of No Alcohol Did to His Body. https://www.triathlete.com/nutrition/a-nutritionist-shares-what-a-month-of-no-alcohol-did-to-his-body

Ben Greenfield Fitness (2016) The 30 Days No Alcohol Experiment: Part 2 (What Happens When You Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey). https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/nutrition-articles/30-days-no-alcohol-experiment/

Bob Curley (2020) More Americans Are Binge Drinking During Pandemic: How to Cope Without Alcohol. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/more-americans-are-binge-drinking-during-pandemic-how-to-cope-without-alcohol

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