Drinking alcohol above recommended levels can be detrimental to our health. However, a new study suggests that regular exercise can counter some of the risks posed by alcohol consumption.

The study was published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It is the first of its kind to look into the negative influences of alcohol intake on mortality because of diseases associated with alcohol consumption.

According to the authors of the study, alcohol consumption seems to be part of the western culture. Much as moderate consumption has its own health benefits, alcohol increases risks of getting some cancers.

Drinking more than the recommended amount (7 servings a week for men and 14 for men) increases the risks of several cancers, stroke, heart disease and eventually death from these diseases. However, exercise seems to help people counter such risks, helping people stay healthier and live longer.

The aim of the study was to determine whether staying active could help counter the risks posed by years of alcohol consumption. The hypothesis was put to test by looking at survey responses from more than 36,000 adults in England and Scotland about health and drinking. The survey was recorded between 1994 and 2006.

Going by the results, about 6,000 of these adults died caused by drinking any amounts of alcohol among other factors. Those who abstained stood a better chance. And the more people drank, the higher the risks of death from cancer.

Much as heavy drinking increased risks of death from all causes, moderate physical activity of about 150 hours a week lessened or even cancelled out the risks. In fact, those who were active but still drank occasionally, seemed to be less prone to cardiovascular death than those who never drank at all. Ironically, those inactive occasional drinkers weren’t so lucky either.

Co-author of the study; Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD, associate professor of exercise, health and physical activity sport sciences at the University of Sydney in Australia said, “This suggests that low and irregular alcohol consumption has cardioprotective effects, but these effects need some physical activity to ignite.”

Being an observational study, definite conclusions about cause and effects of diet and drinking cant be drawn. What is known for sure, is the benefits of moderate physical activity on effects of alcohol – just 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise.

Funny thing: Stamatakis isn’t recommending abstinence because drinking is prevalent in the western culture. His suggestion is limiting it to “moderate”, which varies a little between the U.S. and U.K. guidelines. “As long as people remain physically active, consumption within these guidelines would be wise advice,” he says. “And it may be a good idea to take a break from alcohol for a week or a few weeks from time to time.”

Overall, Stamatakis says, the findings highlight what we already know: how important it is to stay active. “Exercise is such a powerful influence that may even offset some of the damage done by other unhealthy behaviors,” he says. “If we were to interpret our results causally, it looks like physical inactivity and alcohol drinking is a very toxic combination.”