The Wine Workout

Drinking just one glass of red vino a day can help exercise the brain in ways we never truly realized — until now

That coveted glass of wine at parties, get-togethers and celebrations is also a workout for the brain.

Yup, you read that right. So stash that crossword puzzle or Sudoku and skip your bridge game for a day and enjoy a glass of wine to improve your brain power.

Neuroscientist Dr. Gordon Shepherd, of the Yale University School of Medicine, has found that drinking wine engages the brain more than any other type of human behavior. In his new book “Neuroenology: How The Brain Creates The Taste of Wine,” Shepherd notes that “drinking wine sparks a reaction in the sensory and emotional parts of the brain.”

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So what does that mean? “The taste is not in the wine. The taste is created by the brain of the wine taster.”

Drinking wine sparks a reaction in the sensory and emotional parts of the brain.

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As wine moves through the mouth and is mixed with the air breathed through the nose, the brain conjures up a flavor. There is the critical component of the “brain activation,” Shepherd stresses, which occurs during the exhale after ones breathes in the smell of the wine.

In other words, as you smell, swirl and swallow, your brain is performing a complex exercise, engaging more elements of your brain than any other activity. And yes, we’re still talking about wine and nothing else!

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Spitting wine out while tasting it, by the way, doesn’t allow you to fully appreciate its complex flavor, as the Daily Mail noted in its piece on Shepherd. Instead, drinkers should swallow every drop, Shepherd said in his book.

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Although the brain isn’t “biased” between red wine and white wine, by the way, numerous studies have shown the significant benefits of red over white.

“Cardiovascular health is a direct function of wine consumption as evident in French studies, which show the French population by and large have very low cardiovascular risk. This is correlative to increased blood flow to the brain,” said South Florida’s Dr. Erich Menge.

Allowing the brain an evening treat doesn’t substitute for a morning workout.

“Increased blood flow to the brain also improves cognitive function,” Menge notes. Also, “drinking red wine increases the levels of antioxidants and free radicals in your circulatory system.”

He adds that “the alcohol can also help reduce stress and reduce inhibitions, which may help improve creativity.”

Antioxidants, stress reduction, and improved creativity — all of this sounds a lot like the list of benefits of exercise to many of us — we’re in! However, this is not a public-service announcement about ditching the water from our workout bottles and replacing that with vino.

Also, keep in mind that Shepherd’s research is about the brain, not the body. Allowing the brain an evening treat doesn’t substitute for a morning workout. Beneficial to the brain and calorie-filled for the body can mean putting on the pounds. So balance is critical for overall health and enjoyment.

Menge stresses the importance of consulting with a physician regarding alcohol consumption. He adds, “Generally the recommendation is one to one-and-a-half glasses of wine per day, depending on the individual’s overall health.”

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Wine drinking is an experience, of course, one best done with others. “My best advice is not to drink wine alone, as more brain stimulation comes from engaging conversation,” said Richard Raborn, M.D., who is based in Boynton Beach, Florida.

Visit your local wine shop for recommendations, gather with friends, and enjoy the refinement and brain boost of a nice glass of wine. Discuss the individual tastes and flavors experienced by each. And drink in health — not to excess.

Christine King is founder and CEO of Your Best Fit, a health and wellness company in Boynton Beach, Florida, that provides fitness, nutrition, and design and management services for individuals, private clubs, luxury communities, and corporations. 

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