A lot of guys treat a hangover as if it were the common cold. They pound water and other fluids, eat stuff that’s unlikely to upset their stomachs, and provide their bodies lots of rest in the form of all-day movie marathons spent lazing on the couch.
But while they share many symptoms, a hangover is not like the flu, says Chris Alford, Ph.D., an associate professor of applied psychology at the University of the West of England. Taking it easy can help your immune system fight off illness. But lying around doesn’t help your body clear away the residual alcohol byproducts and toxins that are the source of your headache and nausea.
When you pump your body full of booze, that alcohol is broken down and metabolized into a handful of different chemicals. Even after the alcohol buzz has worn off, many of these chemicals are still sliding around your brain and bloodstream where they can promote inflammation, foggy thinking, and all the symptoms you associate with a hangover.
So what does help speed your recovery? It’s not as appealing as re-watching all the Die Hard movies, but exercise may be one of the surest ways to banish all those bad feelings, Alford says.
Anything that increases your blood flow and metabolism will hurry up all the physiological processes that allow your body to flush itself of the junk left over from your night of partying, he says. And nothing revs up both your blood flow and metabolism like a workout.
That doesn’t mean you should perform wind sprints to relieve your hangover. But assuming you can do either without puking, a gym session or bike ride—or at least a long walk—will help clear your head faster than spending that hour or two on your sofa, Alford says. Taking a hot shower and eating a decent meal can also rev up your metabolism, and so should help you feel better faster.
One big warning: If you have to drive somewhere to get in a workout, you may be better off doing pushups at home. “We found that participants who had zero breath alcohol the morning after [drinking] still had impaired driving,” Alford says.
You read that right. Alford’s research shows your fried, hungover brain is so slow on the uptake after a big night out that, behind the wheel, you’re a danger to yourself and others. “The drivers in our study looked pretty bad, to be honest,” he says. “The hungover drivers were just as bad as those driving over the limit.”
Once you’ve wrapped up your workout, drink lots of water and try to get in a nap. Alford says dehydration and sleep disruption are likely both contributors to your hangover.
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