Watching sports can cause stress to the heart

Researchers from the University of Montreal in Canada took the pulse of fans during a hockey game.

Toronto: Watching sporting events can drastically increase heart rate, according to a new study which suggests that both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat can harm heart health.

Researchers from the University of Montreal in Canada took the pulse of fans during a hockey game and found that on average, their heart rate increased by 75 per cent when watching on TV, and by a whopping 110 per cent (more than doubled, equivalent to the cardiac stress with vigorous exercise) when watching in person.

While previous studies have indicated a link between sporting events and cardiac incidents, this is the first study to specifically focus on hockey.

The average 75 per cent increase in heart rate they found in TV viewers and the 110 per cent bump from watching a game live are equivalent to the heart rate response that occurs with moderate and vigorous physical stress, respectively.

Overall, the heart rate increased by a median of 92 per cent (almost doubled) across all spectators.

"Our results indicate that viewing a hockey game can likewise be the source of an intense emotional stress, as manifested by marked increases in heart rate," said Paul Khairy from the University of Montreal.

"The study raises the potential that the emotional stress-induced response of viewing a hockey game can trigger adverse cardiovascular events on a population level," Khairy said.

While it would be easy to assume the most heart pounding moments of a game come right at the end, researchers found that peak heart rates occurred most frequently during any scoring opportunity - for or against - and during overtime.

"Our analysis of elements of the hockey game associated with peak heart rates supports the notion that it is not the outcome of the game that primarily determines the intensity of the emotional stress response, but rather the excitement experienced with viewing high-stakes or high-intensity portions of the game," said Khairy.

Prior to their participation, individuals were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire, which not only assessed their general health, but also determined their fan passion score, a method of calculating how invested a person is in the team.

Researchers adopted the fan passion score from previous studies done on soccer fans, but found that in hockey, the score failed to predict heart rate responses.

Previous studies have shown that cardiovascular events triggered by watching sporting events are more common in people with existing coronary artery disease, attributed to a disproportionate increase in markers of vasoconstriction and acute inflammation in those individuals.

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