Watching sport or playing sport – which is best for you?

watching sport

With the Olympics just over and all the impressive feats of human sporting achievement fresh in our memories you should take a moment to reflect on how lucky you are to have made it through these games, alive, watching them from your armchair.

The expression “die-hard” fan can be taken quite literally. A New England Journal of Medicine study found viewing a stressful soccer match increases the risk of having a minor cardiovascular event. Researchers studied The 2006 World Cup in Germany and found the number of cardiac emergencies more than doubled when Germany was playing in matches (43) compared to days when Germany had no matches scheduled (18) or when no matches at all were played (15).

So how does this happen? The emotional stress fans experience through watching the game can increase heart rate, blood pressure, cause localised vasoconstriction and vasodilation (think of those bulging veins in your partner’s forehead when yelling

at the TV as someone misses an easy set shot) and sometimes arrhythmias. There has also been reports of increased red and white blood cell production increasing the viscosity of the blood promoting thrombosis.

Savvy readers will have realised that exercise too increases your heart rate, blood pressure and causes vasoconstriction and vasodilation – so can watching sport be good for you? The answer also appears to be yes. In 2013 researchers did nerve conduction studies on patients while they watched someone running on TV. While watching someone else do exercise, there was increased blood flow to peripheral muscles and an increase in heart and respiratory rate – just like doing a workout. These physiological changes went away when the watching of sport stopped.

It now makes sense why I get so tired after watching the mountain stages of the Tour De France.