What is more exhilarating, or sometimes crushing, than watching a favorite sports team? Sports fandom is a roller coaster of emotions, both good and bad, and many do not know how it affects their health. Here’s what you need to know about the connection between sports and your wellbeing.
Sports and Stress
A little bit of stress is a powerful motivator, but a lot of stress is not pleasant — and it comes with negative side effects. A Canadian study found that watching a hockey game on television increased viewer’s pulses by 75 percent and attending a game in person increase the pulse by 110 percent, which is as high as increased pulse due to intense exercise.
That study may say something about the passion Canadians have for hockey, but the data also indicates that the stress of sports fandom is dangerous for your health. Watching the game increases your risk of sudden death and a cardiac episode.
What’s interesting is that the pulse rate rose regardless of whether the viewer was invested in the game’s outcome. In other words, it doesn’t need to be your team, like the Carolina Panthers, for you to become stressed by watching. For those with pre-existing heart conditions, the increased inflammation and blood vessel constriction trigger a heart attack that may have been forthcoming. If you are older or if you are overweight, you may be more susceptible to suffering heart problems brought on by the over-excitement and stress of being a mega sports fan.
Along with stress comes anxiety, especially during playoff season. You may experience cognitive anxiety where you can’t stop worrying about the outcome of the game or somatic anxiety, those physical symptoms such as lightheadedness, butterflies in the stomach or shaky hands. These symptoms are unpleasant, but they usually are not dangerous. Still, if you experience side effects that trouble you, it’s worth talking about it with your doctor.
While this is distressing, it arrives at a well-known truth of life. Some of the most pleasurable experiences in life may also be bad for you. Consider cheese: While its rich and creamy taste is comforting, and cheese is healthy in moderate amounts, too much can raise your cholesterol and impact your wellbeing.
A moderate course is best, with cheese, sports or anything else. If you are recovering from a cardiac incident, it may be best to avoid the television while games are on, but if you have no health concerns, watch and enjoy. And try to remember, it’s only a game!
Sports and Emotion
When you watch your favorite team, you feel like a part of the team. Sure, you may not have a great throwing arm or be overly fast on your feet, but you belong to the greater sports community, and you are a passionate member of Panther Nation. This happens because adult brains contain something known as mirror neurons, which allow you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine their experience.
On a neurochemical level, your brain emits dopamine, the well-known feel good hormone, when things are going well. When you can’t control the outcome of the game, you can enjoy the dopamine hit when your team is ahead.
Sports also connects you to other fans. This is where many find the greatest camaraderie in watching sports. Whether you attend the game with a group of pals, chat about the game over morning coffee or call in to a sports radio show to dissect the sports news, you connect to others through your love of sports. It’s a bonding experience for generations of adults.
When you root for the Panthers, or any other team, you get to know the players; how they behave on the field, what they do to celebrate a win, even what their personal lives are like. You start to feel like you know them, thus you are distressed when they lose or fumble a play and share in their joy when the game goes well.
To avoid watching sports because of the association with stress and bad health outcomes also means denying yourself all the emotional joy that comes with being a sports fan, too. This joy can foster resiliency and get you through a slump.
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