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March 28, 2023

Why being a Philly sports fan may be good for your mental health

Attending games in person may improve one's sense of well-being and reduce feelings of loneliness, new research shows

The devotion and passion of Philadelphia sports fans is virtually unrivaled. We wear our hearts on our sleeves, experiencing the victories and losses deeply, and proudly displaying our favorite teams' colors – no matter what. Sure, sometimes we get criticized for being rude to the opposing team, but there is no denying our loyalty. 

As it turns out, the sense of camaraderie we gain in rooting for the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers may be good for our health. A new study suggests that attending live sporting events improves one's sense of well-being and reduces feelings of loneliness.

A higher sense of well-being – feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment – has been linked to a decreased risk of disease, illness and injury, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also is associated with a stronger immune system, the ability to recovery more quickly and increased longevity. Loneliness has been linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. 

The researchers found that people who had attended at least one sporting event in person over the past year were more satisfied with their lives and were more likely to feel that life was worthwhile. They also were less lonely. 

The increase in well-being associated was comparable to a person getting a new job, researchers said. 

The study's findings do not mean that attending sporting events actually cause these improvements, the researchers cautioned. Other factors could be driving the higher life satisfaction levels. But the researchers said the association is worth exploring, adding that it may be beneficial to reduce ticket prices for certain groups. 

"Further research needs to be carried out to see if these benefits are more pronounced for elite level sport, or are more closely linked to supporting a specific team," said lead author Dr. Helen Keyes, of Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom.  

"However, we do know that watching live sport of all types provides many opportunities for social interaction and this helps to forge group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and boosts levels of well-being."

The study surveyed 7,209 people in England, ages 16 to 85, about their lives, well-being and whether they attended sporting events. The type of live sports they attended ranged from free amateur games to professional sporting events like the English Premier League. 

Other scientists have explored whether attending live sporting events may be bad for one's health. And that possibility isn't hard to picture either: It's the bottom of the 9th inning. The Phillies are trailing by one run. They have a runner on third base, but there are two outs and the batter has two strikes. Just like Eminem, your palms are sweaty and your knees weak. You can feel the blood coursing through your veins as you yell at the baseball players on the field. Is all this stress and excitement good for you?

Some studies have found that the excitement of watching a game can cause a faster heart rate and spikes in blood pressure. Yet, Houston Methodist researchers emphasize that these temporarily elevated heart rate and blood pressure levels aren't harmful for most people.

People with heart disease or coronary artery disease may feel the symptoms of their conditions more strongly, like mild chest discomfort or shortness of breath, during a stress-inducing game. And in the rare case that a person has stress cardiomyopathy – a weakening of the heart muscle due to physical or emotional stress – the excitement of a game could turn dangerous, leading to severe heart muscle weakness.

But for most people, cheering on the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park this summer might be just what the doctor ordered. 

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