Sports can break your heart in more ways than one
Editor’s note: This material is presented using a first-person method.
MARQUETTE — I spent last Saturday evening the same way that many others did–in a heightened state of stress and anxiety. For over three hours, I paced back and forth, I bit my fingernails and ate far too much greasy food in an attempt to distract from the knot of dread and consternation which filled my stomach and shot my heart rate through the roof. All common symptoms of being a Green Bay Packers fans during the playoffs.
As Taylor Swift said, “I think I’ve seen this film before, and I didn’t like the ending.”
Once again, Packers fans were left crushed and disappointed after a three-plus hours of emotional ups-and-downs which left all of us to discuss which of the five levels of grief we were currently experiencing.
After I eventually calmed down, I started to think about how I do this over and over every year and it occurred to me that there is absolutely no way that this can be good for me.
So, after doing a lot of reading it turns out that my hypothesis was correct: watching sports can be hazardous to your health.
That’s not to say that turning on a hockey game is going to kill you, but there is a good amount of evidence that particularly intense and high stakes sporting events like the NFL playoffs, the World Series or the World Cup have a correlation with heart attacks and a host of other physical and mental health problems.
A study published in Scientific Reports looked at hospital admissions for heart-related issues in Germany during the 2014 World Cup and found that there was a significant increase in hospitalizations for heart-related issues during the three week period where the global soccer tournament took place compared to that same period in 2013 and 2015, with a 5.4% increase on the day of the final match of the tournament, which Germany went on to win.
A similar study was done in England during the 1998 World Cup and found that the risk of hospital admission went up by a staggering 25% on June 30, the day which England was knocked out of the tournament in heartbreaking, literally, fashion.
It’s not just a European soccer phenomenon either. A 2017 study done by the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found that heart rates of those being studied doubled during hockey games played by the Montreal Canadians. The heart rates were quite high, similar to those measured during moderate levels of exercise.
Another study by the University of Montreal found that Canadians fans heart rates increased by 75% while watching the games on TV and 110% while watching games in person.
The evidence is clear that sporting events can be hard on the heart. That evidence becomes even more worrisome when coupled with everything else that goes along with watching sports for many people. Whether it be over-indulging in alcohol and greasy food, or spending three hours in subzero wind chills, like those during the Packers game Saturday, being a passionate sports fan can be a hard on your health.
So, what’s to be done? What can you do to make sure that football Sunday doesn’t turn into a trip to the emergency room?
An article published by Harvard Medical School had a few suggestions:
≤ Stay hydrated — Pretty much any list of health precautions is going to have hydration as a suggestion, and for good reason. Hydration is the key to health, especially if you have been indulging in beverages all day.
≤ Be careful about how much you drink — It’s no secret that drinking alcohol is bad for your body but it is particularly bad for your heart. According to Mayo Clinic, having more than three alcoholic beverages in one sitting can temporarily raise your blood pressure to an unhealthy level. Add heightened blood pressure from the stress associated with sporting events to that and you can see how bad it could be.
≤ Take a break — One thing about the NFL is that there are countless commercial breaks. It might be a good idea to step outside or head to a different room during commercial breaks or halftime. A little fresh air and distraction can help to calm you down.
≤ Remember your medications — This can be a life or death matter for those who already have a pre existing heart condition.
Sure, it is just a game but it doesn’t always feel that way. Many of us will agree with legendary Scottish soccer manager Bill Shankly who said “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Randy Crouch can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.