Bodywork

Q:

Can I Sweat Out Alcohol?

I have a friend who runs home from the bar and sits in a sauna after a night of drinking. He says this ritual helps him sober up faster and avoid a hangover. Is he right?

Sweating young man push ups.

Sweating young man doing push ups.     Photo: Mike Manzano/iStockphoto

A:Dr. Jim Schaefer will be answering this question. He’s an anthropology professor at Union College and an alcohol metabolism expert. (Yes, that’s a real job. And yes, it does involve a lot of drinking.)

“Raising metabolism by exercise would have a minimal effect on blood alcohol level,” Schaefer says. Running home from a bar won’t do much more to sober you up than taking a cab home.

As for sweating it out in a sauna, Schaefer says that’s “not a reliable practice for hangover” either. “Just the opposite is better,” he says.

You should drink water to counter alcohol’s dehydrating effects, and you will feel better lying in a cool bed than on a hot wooden bench. Schaefer also points out that a sauna would be an awkward place to hurl; your bed is probably closer to a toilet.

So can you exercise away a hangover?

Nope.

“No physical exercise can reliably reduce the chemical soup inside your gut. Time is the most reliable way to get back to zero and feeling normal,” Schaefer says.

Bottom line: Skip the sauna and the run in favor of a cool bed and plenty of drinking water. 

Schaefer's tips for avoiding that exercise-crippling hangover:

1. Clear Alcohol Is Best

Hangovers are partly caused by cogeners, byproducts of fermentation found in alcoholic beverages. You’ll find the most cogeners in darker liquors, so stick to lighter ones like vodka. “Clear is best,” Schaefer says. “Multi-distilled or filtered is even better.”

2. Take It Neat

Tough luck for all of you who enjoy a ittle fizz in your glass. Carbonation speeds up your body’s absorption of alcohol, so have your drink neat or with water.

3. Watch the Clock

“The body takes care of a drink and a quarter per hour by itself,” Schaefer says. Slow down, nurse your drink, or dance to distract yourself from pounding too much too fast.

4. Ride Out the Headache

Never take acetaminophen (a.k.a. Tylenol) for a hangover—it's metabolized by the liver and can cause liver damage or failure, particularly in heavy drinkers.

5. Keep Drinking

Pass on the hair of the dog—drink water. “Alcohol dries us out and that is a major contributor to hangovers,” Schaefer says. (Outside Senior Executive Editor Michael Roberts found that out the hard way.)

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