Last week sports fans watched the end of both the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and the NBA Finals. For San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Kings fans, the NBA and NHL seasons ended with the sweet taste of victory, but for Miami Heat and New York Rangers fans, a more bitter taste has been left in their mouth that will linger right up until the start of next season. Now with the start of World Cup, diehard fans from around the world are donning their soccer jerseys and painting their faces in support of their country. No matter what country or team a sports fan is rooting for, they all share one thing in common: the heart pounding stress of watching their team complete for the ultimate prize in their sport.
From highest highs to the lowest lows, the emotional stress of following your favorite sports team could be leading you down a road to an early grave. The anxiety the average sports fan experiences while watching their team play has been linked to several health concerns including heart attacks, obesity, and binge drinking. I know I’m still recovering from the dramatic double-OT loss my New York Rangers suffered at the end of their impressive playoff run. For those of us who are hardcore sports fan, investing less emotion into watching our team play is easier said than done, but it would be in our best interest to have a heart healthy plan in place to counteract the effects of our sport fanaticism.
Do you feel the need to binge on food high in calories, sugar, and fat after watching your team drop a big game? You’re not alone. Although junk food like deep-fried chicken wings, potato chips, and pizza are a staple at every Super Bowl watch party, apparently fans of the losing team are more likely to go running for the buffet table after watching their team cough up a big game. A recent study published in Psychological Science examined the eating habits of American’s when their city or state’s NFL team won or lost a game. On the Monday following their team’s loss, fans consumed 10 percent more calories and 16 percent more saturated fat. Calorie and saturated fat consumption was significantly lower among fans of the winning team come that very same Monday. Researchers attributed the emotional eating done by a losing team’s fans to relating a team defeat to a “personal defeat,” which, in turn, causes a threat to their self-esteem.
“People live vicariously through their teams thus they feel the stress of the sport as if they are living it themselves, this is why we have also the violent reactions to winning/losing such as the soccer hooligans the championship victory street riots etc.,” President of the International Sports Professionals Association ISPA, Dr. John Mayer told Medical Daily. “People believe that it is their role to get involved with the sport at this intense level as if that will help determine the outcome of a competition, again as if it is their job for the team.”
German researchers tracking heart attack data among their country’s soccer fans during the 2006 World Cup were stunned to find out what the stress of watching their favorite team play meant for cardiovascular health. On days the German soccer team played during the tournament, the number of cardiac emergencies tripled for men and doubled for women. Games that decided if the team would remain in the tournament were especially taxing on the hearts and emotions of German soccer fans. The number of people admitted to a hospital emergency department to be treated for a heart attack skyrocketed on the day the German team advanced to the semifinals after beating Argentina and once again after they lost that semifinal match to Italy.
“Let’s take in to consideration what happens biologically as you stress from watching your team: A number of biomarkers have been shown to be affected by psychological stress,” Dr. Mayer added. “These biomarkers include allostatic load, which is a summary measure of the cumulative biological burden of the repeated attempts to adapt to stress. Allostatic load includes effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary glands, the sympathetic nervous system and the cardiovascular system. So you see what a toll this sports stress puts on the body!”