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Is Watching Sports Bad for Your Health? Here's What New Research Says

From TIME - October 4, 2017

Watching a sports match can stress your heart just as much as playing in the game itself, suggests a small new study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology. Researchers found that people's pulses increased by 75% when they watched a hockey game on television and by 110% when watching one in personequivalent to the cardiac stress of vigorous exercise.

Previous studies have linked watching sporting events to an increased risk of heart attack and sudden death among spectators, especially for people with existing coronary artery disease. The new research involved 20 adults living in Montreal who had no history of heart disease. They gave information about their general health and filled out a fan passion questionnaire to determine how invested they were in their local National Hockey League team, the Montreal Canadiens.

Then, researchers from the University of Montreal measured everyone's pulse while they watched a Canadiens game. Half watched on television, and half attended the game in an arena. They found that TV viewers heart rates increased by an average of 75%, and game attendees heart rates increased by 110%.

Thats about equal to the heart-rate bump seen during moderate-to-vigorous exercise, the authors say. Participants' heart rates stayed above the threshold for moderate physical activity for about 39 minutes when watching a game on television. For those in the arena, heart rates stayed above the moderate-activity threshold for 72 minutes, and above the vigorous-activity threshold for almost 13.

In total, spectators heart rates increased by an average of 92% during the hockey games, from a resting heart rate of about 60 beats per minute to a maximum of 114. Peak heart rates occurred during scoring opportunities, both for and against the Canadiens, and were noted throughout the gamenot just at the end or in overtime.

"It is not the outcome of the game that primarily determines the intensity of the emotional stress response, the authors wrote in their paper, but rather the excitement experienced while viewing high-stakes or high-intensity portions of the game.

Somewhat surprisingly, it did not seem to matter how passionate fans were about the team. Their heart-rate fluctuations were not affected by where they fell on the fan passion scale, or what gender they were, either. The authors note, however, that the scale was adapted from studies involving soccer fans, and that a questionnaire designed specifically for hockey fans may have revealed a more accurate relationship.

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