Is watching football bad for your heart?

With just a few days before football’s European championships get underway in France, you may have already placed your bets on the eventual winner and the tensions may be starting to build. Watching your favourite team can be stressful, but is it putting your heart health at risk?

Several studies have linked spectator sports and increased risk of cardiovascular events. The stress experienced while watching a sport, especially football, can raise blood pressure and heart rate. Some sports fans can develop such an emotional tie to their team that physiological stress is almost unavoidable.

An international experiment undertaken by Creative agency Dare on behalf of Barclays, who sponsors the Premier League, found on average supporters’ heart rate increased to 145.5 percent of its resting level when their team conceded a goal, and to 215.5 percent when their team scored! Another study from Zimmerman, published in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension (“Safety of Spectator Sports: Blood Pressure and Heart Rate Responses in Baseball and Football Fans”), also suggests that watching football is associated with a rise in blood pressure, and more surprisingly, found that the fall in blood pressure in baseball fans was significant compared to the rise seen in football fans.

So, watching football is not a passive activity, even if you are just sitting on your couch. The DARE experiment even concluded that die-hard football fans may experience more stress on their hearts at key moments than players. Because athletes are fitter, their heart rate and blood pressure respond more slowly to exercise. Players will have also prepared for the match, so are able to anticipate the game and can see the action unfold in front of them.

As the Euros approach, you might want to make yourself aware of the health issues surrounding spectator sports and prepare for games. Try to avoid grabbing salty snacks or drinking too much while watching the game. Better still in between the games, why not have a kick around – a recent survey suggested it’s the best way for middle-aged men to tackle high blood pressure.

Enjoy the Euros but also keep your pressure in check.