October 19, 2017
The dangers of playing sports are well-documented, but what about the dangers of watching sports? A new study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology has us believing that every hockey game you watch could be your last.
This fairly small study examined 20 Canadians with no history of heart disease who were instructed to fill out a questionnaire determining how passionate and invested they are in hockey and their favorite team. The researchers then hooked the participants to a pulse monitor and measured their heart rates throughout their favorite team’s game.
The participants who watched the hockey game on television had an average 75 percent increase in heart rate and the ones who watched the game live at the team’s arena experienced a 110 percent increase in heart rate on average. This rise in heart rate is consistent with what’s experienced during vigorous exercise. The TV viewers consistently stayed above this 75 percent threshold for an average of 39 minutes and stadium viewers held this high heart rate for a whopping 72 minutes.
To be more specific, viewers’ heart rates climbed from the resting rate of 60 to a maximum of 114 beats-per minute. Peak heart rates occurred during scoring opportunities both for and against supported teams. It’s interesting to note that this remained throughout the game and not only during the end or overtime. Viewers’ heart rates are not tied strictly to the outcome of the game but rather the excitement of the ups and downs experienced throughout play.
Researchers found no correlation between the replies on the questionnaire and heart rate fluctuations— meaning that it doesn’t matter how invested and passionate you are about your team. Your excitement levels and heart risk are the same.
While healthy participants did not experience any health related problems, people with pre-existing heart conditions may want to watch out. The authors of the study say watching sports can lead to “intense emotional stress.” This could increase blood vessel constriction in people with heart conditions. Increased heart rate and emotional stress are not only caused by watching sports. In fact, most heart-racing activities have the same effect. Watching a sports game isn’t going to put a strain on a healthy heart, especially considering the peak heart rate measured in the research—114 bpm—is well within the normal boundaries that a human heart can safely withstand.
While watching sports is not going to directly give you a heart attack, it can be a trigger for someone who has a high chance of heart attack already. Researchers are aiming to inform people with heart conditions that you could still be at risk, even if you aren’t on the ice, field or court. Patients with recent heart surgery should not only lay off sugary foods and excercise but should be advised to take a break from watching sports for a few weeks as well.
Jay Mehta is a sophomore economics major.