Any die-hard sports fan can relate to the exhilaration of watching a particularly eventful back-and-forth game. When it’s down to the wire and your team is pushing for a last-second victory, you probably feel like your heart is racing even harder than the athletes’.
But have you ever actually thought about the effect that those stressful games has on your heart? Maybe you should start. While you’re screaming profanities at your TV or chanting like a maniac at the actual game, your heart is putting in overtime, according to a study done on hockey fans and published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology. But physically being at the game can almost count as a workout, the study found.
Researchers had 20 Montreal Canadiens fans wear heart rate monitors during games—half while they watched the game from home and half while they actually attended games—and found that fans who watched the game on TV had an average of a 75% increase in heart rate. That’s about what you’d expect on a casual bike ride, study author Dr. Paul Khairy told Live Science.
Fans who were at the game had an average heart rate increase of 110%, which is about the equivalent of what you’d experience while running, Khairy says. This study was small and focused on Canadiens fans, but studies in the past have also shown higher heart rates in soccer fans who attended World Cup games, according to Live Science.
The study revealed the three most stressful parts of the game for fans (when your heart rate is spiking most often), and they’re not the least bit surprising. The third-most-stressful time in the game is while the opposite team is attempting to score, and the second-most-stressful time is while your team is trying score.
And if you’re wondering when researchers saw the most heart rate spikes, you’ve probably never watched hockey, because any hockey fan would (correctly) assume that the most stressful part of the game is during overtime periods.
Since the study was small and only focused on one sport, it’s tough to make generalizations, Khairy says. But we’d be willing to bet that almost any sport gets fans’ hearts racing in a similar manner at one point or another.
Either way, Khairy’s final piece of advice is one that we hope everyone heeds: Sporting events have the potential to put stress on your heart, so if you experience any cardiac symptoms during a hockey game (or any sporting event, for that matter) don’t wait for the period to be over to seek medical attention.
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