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Is watching sports a stressful experience? What the data says

ByDave Stopher

Feb 19, 2020 #health, #Sports

All over the world, sports are a celebrated pastime for billions of people. Whether it’s a local football league right in your neighborhood, or cheering for your nation at the Olympics, and becoming a fan of teams from other cities or even countries, watching sports allows us to recognize the incredible athleticism of the human body when trained.

Most sports fans can become rather excited when watching their favourite team, especially when the stakes are high, figuratively or literally. Meaning to say, the excitement of watching sports can be enhanced by watching your favourite team play against a rival city, or having a small wager between friends, and especially when watching championship games.

But can all of that sports-induced excitement be too much for us? Can the excitement become a harmful stress? Could you get so angry at your team for losing the championship, you have a heart attack? Could being a fan of Pedro Obiang, who analysts discovered to be the most stress-inducing player for fans to watch in Premier League derby, give you a heart attack? Well no, but yes, depending on preconditions.

BBC reported that an Oxford study tested the saliva of Brazilian fans during their 2014 loss to Germany at the World Cup – and found that levels of hormone cortisol had “rocketed up” throughout the game. This could be considered harmful, as experiencing high levels of cortisol for too long carries the risk of elevated blood pressure, constricted blood vessels, and could damage an already weakened heart.

In other words, being seriously emotionally invested in a sports game could trigger stress levels that could give you a heart attack, if you’re already at risk for blood pressure complications. The average healthy, young adult will likely not keel over and die from watching their favourite team lose.

Another study found in The American Journal of Medicine linked the risk of heart attack and sudden death to spectators watching live events. They followed 20 adults with no history of heart disease, assessed their “fan passion” for the Montreal Canadiens, then measured their pulses during while watching a hockey game on TV, and when watching a game in person. Pulses went up 75% during television viewing, and as high as 110% while watching a game in person. This is the same amount of cardiac stress you’d get from vigorous exercise.

What it boils down to of course is how emotionally invested you are into the game, which is the downside of being a (literally) die-hard fan. Oxford University researcher Doctor Martha Newson, from the previously mentioned Oxford study, said on a Kate Hawkesby radio show that the danger “comes for people who maybe have a weak heart or are having prolonged exposure to stress and can’t regulate back to a healthy functional level”, while also mentioning the deep emotional attachment some fans can have. It becomes troubling when the sports team becomes part of our personal identity. Obsession carries all sorts of other risks, like stalking your favourite player, or worse, becoming a paparazzi. I jest, of course. Sort of.

In any case, it’s clear as day that watching sports can induce stress in people who are emotionally invested into the game, which has been pretty obvious to anyone who has ever watched sports. But now there are scientific studies to confirm it, so if ever you think the home team is going down, keep grandpa away from the TV.

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