Debunking the Link Between Drinking and Living to 90

We get to the bottom of reports that moderate drinking — even more than exercise — is the key to longevity.

In our latest installment of headlines that sound too good to be true, various media outlets have been reporting that drinking alcohol is better than exercise if you want to live past the ripe old age of 90. Skeptical, we decided to dig a little deeper.

The source of this claim? Results from the 90+ Study, which has included more than 1,600 people who — you guessed it — are 90 and older. The ultimate goal of the study is to answer the question: What allows people to live to age 90 and beyond?

After lead study author Claudia Kawas, M.D., presented the study’s latest findings at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual conference, articles began circulating celebrating the idea that moderate drinking is the key to longevity. Hooray!

A reporter for UPI, one of the original sources, explained, “People who drank about two glasses of beer or wine per day were 18 percent less likely to experience a premature death than those who abstain — but participants who exercised 15 to 45 minutes a day cut the same risk by 11 percent.”

However, Men’s Health reached out to study authors and got this clarification: “A better estimate from our papers would be: Using data from our 1981 survey, people who consumed one to two glasses of alcohol (beer, wine or hard liquor) per day had a 9 to 15 percent lower likelihood of dying compared to those who abstain from all alcohol. Participants who exercised 15 to 45 minutes a day in 1981 cut the same risk of mortality by 15 to 35 percent.”

What’s more, as LiveScience reported (though many others didn’t), Kawas had added this caveat to the findings: “Keep in mind that I start studying people when they’re 90. I think it’s very likely that individuals who have very excessive alcohol intake at younger ages don’t even make it to their 90s.”

Casting further doubt on the link between moderate drinking and longevity, LiveScience also pointed to a 2016 paper from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, which analyzed 87 previous studies looking at alcohol consumption and mortality.

Lead study author Tim Stockwell, Ph.D., found that most of these studies compared moderate drinkers with current abstainers, which means these so-called nondrinkers may have downed their fair share of booze in the past only to quit later in life because of health problems.

Once he and his team adjusted for the “abstainer bias,” they found that moderate drinking had no effect on longevity compared to never drinking or occasional drinking.

That doesn’t mean you have to go the teetotaling route to stay healthy — just don’t count on your regular glass of vino to boost your chances of becoming a nonagenarian.

Read more: What Just One Glass of Wine Does to Your Brain