News Flash: Alcohol and Women’s Mental Health, Intuitive Movement, and Other Health News

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Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at a study that suggests cutting alcohol has bigger mental health perks for women, we learn how intuitive movement works, and we understand why working out alone often doesn’t cut it for weight loss.

Women get a bigger mental health boost from quitting drinking

While many women drink to relax, feel good and take the edge off, a new study covered by “Today” suggests that skipping that daily glass of wine is a better way to improve mental health and feel more calm and peaceful.

In this study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, women who quit alcohol improved their mental well-being, according to study co-author Herbert Fang, Ph.D., of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.

Indeed, he says, while moderate drinking has been touted as part of a healthy lifestyle, the risk and benefits of consuming even moderate amounts of booze aren’t clear.

The study, which analyzed the drinking habits and mental health of 10,000 people in Hong Kong and 31,000 in the U.S. who weren’t heavy drinkers, provides more fuel to the “sober curious” movement, which has more people abstaining from alcohol as a wellness tool rather than to overcome serious addiction.

In both groups, those who were lifetime abstainers reported the highest levels of well-being. Among the other study participants, who were followed for several years, quitting alcohol was linked with favorable changes in mental well-being—but only in women, not in men.

In fact, women who stopped drinking reached the highest levels of well-being experienced by abstainers within four years. It’s not clear why, but scientists say it’s possible that abstinence reverses alcohol-related brain injury or that it reduces life stresses, including family conflict.

Psychiatrists say that quitting alcohol also can help reduce anxiety and irritability. While a glass of pinot does mellow you out in the short term, experts say it also helps activate systems in the brain that make anxiety worse later.

At a time when women, who are more prone to depression, are catching up to men with their drinking, experts say there are real reasons to try to pump the brakes.

What is intuitive movement?

If you’ve begun to dread working out more than you delight in it, it might be a good time to give intuitive movement a try, argues registered dietitian Alissa Rumsey in this U.S. News & World Report article.

Following the same concepts as intuitive eating, intuitive movement is the practice of connecting and listening to your body to figure out what it needs each day rather than just to burn calories or lose weight. It involves asking yourself questions such as the following:

Some days that might be an intense circuit training class, while other days it may mean light yoga or gentle stretching. Instead of sticking to a rigid formula of cardio and weights, it’s about finding what feels good and enjoying movement for the health and mood benefits, whenever you can fit it in.

While that may seem less effective for weight loss or fitness than a 90-day fat-burning blitz, it’s actually about building a pleasurable program that you are internally motivated to stick with for the long term—one that’s not all or nothing and feels more like self-care than punishment.

One of the first steps, Rumsey says, is exploring different fitness classes, apps, videos and activities from ballroom dancing to rock climbing, swimming, biking and hiking to find one (or several) that you enjoy. Do you like group classes or solo workouts? Indoor or outdoor workouts? When you like what you’re doing, you’re more likely to stick with it.

Why aren’t most of us losing weight from working out?

The short answer, confirmed in a large study covered in The New York Times, is that most of us tend to overcompensate for our workout sessions by eating more—about 90 to 125 additional calories a day (or about four bites of most food), depending on the amount of activity. So if you’re trying to lose weight with movement, don’t fall prey to the “I worked out, so I deserve” excuse. Keep better track of what you’re eating and you’ll reap the benefits, the study’s authors say.

Photo credit: Cameron Whitman, Stocksy