Just for Fun, Hashers Mix Drinking and Running

By Vicky Hallett
Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Standing in the middle of a circle of men and women of all ages, a few of them in kilts, isn't how I usually warm up for a run. But on a not-too-long-ago Saturday, I was tagging along with the DC Hash House Harriettes and Harriers (DCH4), one of more than a dozen groups in the area dedicated to hashing. The sport is not as illicit as the name sounds: It's based on a tradition started in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where British military and fellow expats gathered for weekly runs and were greeted at the finish line with beer.

The idea of pairing sweating with socializing in this way caught on around the globe, along with an accompanying clubby culture that involves lewd hand gestures, bawdy nicknames and naughty songs. So before we could start our run, I was summoned to take my place in the center of the group for an initiation interrogation.

"Who made you come?"

"I did," was my response, drawing guffaws.

But really I was there because new research out of the University of Miami has found that the more alcohol people consume, the more time they spend exercising. And running with a hash seemed like the best way of trying to understand why.

When lead author Michael French, a professor of health economics, and his team decided to look into the link between exercise and alcohol consumption, the expectation was that moderate drinkers -- the ones who stick to their single nip a day -- would come out on top. Compared with abstainers and heavy drinkers, they're generally wealthier and healthier. So they probably also exercise more, right?

Wrong: By combing through survey data from 230,000 Americans collected by the 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the researchers found that while moderate drinkers did beat out the teetotalers, heavy drinkers actually logged even more time exercising.

The results, published in the September/October issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion, held true for both men and women.

Of course, averages are just that, French cautions. There are heavy drinkers who never set foot in a gym and abstainers who never seem to leave. "It's not a cause-and-effect. We can't say you should drink to get motivated to exercise," French says.

But it does raise the question of why this relationship exists, and French has some theories. One is that it's a guilt issue. Folks know margaritas and martinis are nothing but empty calories, so they work harder to burn them off.

Another is that there's a group of people who tend to be more "sensation seeking," and therefore go to extremes whenever possible. "Think about a rugby game," French says. "After beating each other up on the field, they get drunk together."

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