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A drink a day could keep the cardiologist away.

That's the upshot of a new study looking at the drinking habits of male heart attack survivors.

Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston followed 1,800 men for 20 years. They found that compared with teetotallers, men who drank about two alcoholic beverages a day had a 42 per cent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular causes.

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The effect was the same whether the men favoured beer, wine or whisky, ABC News reports. (Vodka and Red Bull? That might be a different story.) But too much booze is still a bad thing, researchers found. Heavy drinkers had a similar risk of death from any cause as abstainers.

The study is the first to look at men's alcohol consumption both before and after they survived a heart attack, said lead author Jennifer Pai, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard University's medical school.

"Our study indicates that for men already consuming moderate amounts of alcohol, continuing to consume moderate amounts after a heart attack may be beneficial for long-term survival," she told ABC News.

In their conclusion, Dr. Pai and colleagues said that alcohol's protective effects may be strongest among men with less severe damage from heart attack, and added that further study was needed.

But the researchers didn't mention whether teetotallers in the study abstained from drinking because of other health problems, which might in part explain their higher mortality rates.

Experts caution non-drinkers against viewing the study as a reason to take up drinking after a hospital stay.

"This certainly isn't an elixir after a heart attack," Robert Bonow, professor of medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, told ABC News. "There are much more important lifestyle factors that should be taken into account before moderate alcohol, like making sure patients are not smoking, they're getting cardiac rehabilitation and taking their medications."

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Since the data were based on self-reports, the findings should be taken with a grain of salt (but not too much on a sodium-reduced diet). Dr. Bonow added that women in particular should view the research with caution since there were no female heart attack survivors in the study.

Despite the healthy skepticism, the study may make it that much easier for a man to feel good about indulging in his favourite tipple at the end of the day.

Is drinking part of your longevity plan? How much do you think is too little – or too much?

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