How Dry/Damp January Gets it Right

By Erika Taylor

Happy Heart Month! 

Does it seem ironic that many of the ways we celebrate Valentine’s Day involve things that are potentially damaging to our hearts? I’ve seen ads for wine yoga, cocktails and a movie, bike-and-brew. Alcohol occupies a throne at the head of nearly every social table. Intense and ubiquitous marketing, affordability, acceptability in most social settings and just the fact that it feels good have created an alcohol culture that is very hard to resist. 

I am not here to tell you not to drink alcohol. I am here to say, we need to think this one through. 

Reality Check – Misinformation

Several studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption provides short term stress-reduction and, in red wine, antioxidants, which may have heart-protective benefits. But for many, the potential harm is far greater than the benefit. Recent scrutiny of these studies has raised doubts, including the lack of controls for other health-promoting habits of participants (people who drink red wine tend to be more affluent and have access to healthier food and cleaner air). And many of these studies were conducted by the alcohol industry itself.

Reality Check – Moderation

The CDC defines moderation as “two drinks or less in a day for men and one drink or less in a day for women.” One drink equals 12 ounces of 5% beer or 5 ounces of 12% wine. I don’t know about you, but my wine glass at home holds way more than 5 ounces. A stout beer might have 10% alcohol and come in a pint glass (16 ounces), more than twice a woman’s daily limit. And timing matters. Consuming seven drinks on the weekend is excessive under this guidance. Our health is affected by both the cumulative effects and the amount of alcohol in our system at any one time. Canada is considering further lowering suggested limits for moderation following research finding that even low levels of drinking may be quite risky. 

Reality Check – Acceptable Risk 

People are killed in automobile accidents, yet we drive. We deem a risk acceptable when the benefits of taking that risk are so great as to outweigh the real or perceived danger. We make a risk/reward calculation. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage our health, wreck our relationships and drain our wallets. We already knew that. But did you know that a 2019 study by the National Institutes of Health found that a standard drink is equivalent to one cigarette for men and two cigarettes for women in terms of cancer risk? I sure didn’t. I don’t smoke, but even if I did, I would never smoke in front of my kids or a client. Not the example I want to set. But I have hosted happy hours in my gym, and my kids see me drink alcohol regularly. Having seen this research, I am rethinking my risk/reward calculation. 

Now for the VERY good news. Reducing the amount we drink can bring dramatic health benefits.

Good News – Better Sleep

Alcohol is a sedative so we may think it helps us sleep. But when the body is processing alcohol our heart rate increases making our sleep restless even if we don’t feel it. Alcohol aborts the deepest cycles of our sleep. For most of us, once our body adjusts to our new alcohol-free bedtime routine our deep sleep will improve. To be clear, for regular and heavy drinkers it may take a while and could be quite uncomfortable to make this transition. This is a great place to ask for professional help. If you are afraid you can’t sleep without alcohol you are not alone. There are health pros standing ready to help you work that one out, and on the other side of the work is waking up more refreshed and with more sustained energy all day. 

Good News – Better Workouts

When we reduce our alcohol intake, improved sleep alone improves the results of exercise. Fitness gains happen largely when the body repairs itself during sleep. Almost all human growth hormone is produced during deep sleep. Skipping alcohol at night lets our body repair itself so we see the results of our workouts. Reducing our intake of alcohol improves hand-eye coordination, judgment and reaction time. These add to our workout performance. We are more hydrated, our bodies produce more glycogen (the stuff our muscles need for energy), and testosterone (which we need for muscle) starts rising within weeks of limiting alcohol. More testosterone also means more sex drive. And sex, well that’s a great workout all by itself. 

Good News – Heart Health 

Once alcohol is fully metabolized by the liver and leaves the bloodstream, blood pressure and heart rate go back to normal immediately in most people. Even chronic high blood pressure will likely improve rapidly when alcohol intake is reduced. According to the British Heart Foundation, “In cardiomyopathy, stopping drinking can lead to improvement or even recovery for many.” Reducing alcohol intake can also contribute to lowering triglycerides (fat in our blood), which in turn can reduce our risk for heart disease, stroke and other harmful cardiovascular conditions.

The most important love you can practice this month is for yourself. Dry/Damp January may be enough for some folks, but some of us may need help. Reach out to a trusted medical or spiritual guide, a family member or friend. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism also has several online resources to get you started. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to any aspect of our health. You are worth figuring this one out. 

Erika Taylor is a community wellness instigator at Taylored Fitness, the original online wellness mentoring system. Taylored Fitness believes that everyone can discover small changes in order to make themselves and their communities more vibrant, and that it is only possible to do our best work in the world if we make a daily commitment to our health. Visit or email

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.