Want to live longer? The results of a recent study might mean that drinking alcohol could improve your chances of living to 90 more than exercising. It may sound too good to be true, but a researcher at the University of California thinks she may have uncovered information that supports this unexpected way for people to live even longer.

How did the study work?

Claudia Kawas of the University of California began a study in 2003 to track the overall life habits of elderly people. She interviewed over 1,700 people about their daily habits over the course of their lives, and her results took her and her colleagues a bit by surprise. People who devoted between 15-45 minutes a day to exercise throughout their lives were about 11% less likely to suffer a premature death, which is great. But people who drank about two glasses of wine or beer each day, however, were 18% less likely to suffer a premature death.

Kawas began the study by focusing on a category of people known as the “oldest old” — people over 90 who make up the fastest-growing age group in the country. The researchers on her team visited and talked to participants every six months, giving them a series of neurological, cognitive, and physical tests. During their conversations, the researchers compiled information about the participants’ diets, medications, medical histories, and activities to help them form theories about what behaviors contribute to a long and healthy life.

What other activities increase longevity?

In addition to moderate drinking, Kawas and her team discovered a number of other daily habits that seemed to correlate with longer lifespans for the people they interviewed. People who were slightly overweight in their 70s were found to be 3% less likely to die early which may be an even more exciting finding for many than the alcohol. Regular and moderate coffee consumption was also linked to longer lifespans.

But just because moderate alcohol intake may increase lifespan slightly more than exercise, don’t get rid of those daily walks just yet. Regular exercise is still associated with longer lives. More important than traditional exercise, though, is spending time practicing a hobby. People who regularly spent about two hours a day on a hobby were up to 21% less likely to die prematurely than those who didn’t. So next time you’re trying to decide between 30 minutes on the elliptical and 30 minutes reading a book or knitting, consider choosing the knitting.

What else affects longevity?

While it is exciting to think that we have control over how long we live, that may not always be the case. Some lifespan details may be predetermined by our genes, says a study by researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago. A study published in 2018 connected the longevity and excellent memories of 80-year-old study participants with the number of Von Economo neurons in their brains. These neurons may support social behavior which in turn might help people keep their memory and their active lives even longer.

The fields of nutrition and aging are ever-growing and ever-changing; don’t forgo your daily exercise routine for a beer just yet. But the more we discover about the way our brains work, the more confident we can be in making healthy choices in our day-to-day lives. Reactions to this study have not all been positive. Some responses claim that the connection between alcohol and longevity is the reverse of Kawas’ claims: perhaps these elderly people who have lived the longest were the healthiest to begin with and thus more able to successfully consume alcohol regularly. This study shouldn’t be used as an excuse to drink to excess, but it certainly is an exciting new look into food and drink’s role in our long-term health.