Each weekend, you don your favorite jersey and lucky socks, sit in the exact same spot on the couch, and turn on the game. You’re a sports fan, and you love it (and your favorite team). There are many reasons to love sports, but you may not always think about all the ways you can benefit from your fandom.
Surprisingly, there’s a strong connection between sports fandom and health. For the avid sports fan, these benefits are a bonus that will probably only enhance the love you have for your team. If you’re not a sports fan but thinking about becoming one, you’ve got some interesting reasons to start rooting for somebody!
Great for Mental Health
Creates Sense of Belonging and Friendship
One of the most straightforward mental health benefits of sports fandom is the sense of belonging and community that comes with it. Being a fan of a team opens the door to new social groups since your fandom gives you a connection to people who you may not otherwise have had. Fan events can allow you to meet and share experiences with new people and grow even closer to your team! For example, you may get the chance to come together as a large group to watch an important game or meet a former player. Watching games or matches is also a great excuse to get together with friends!
Being a fan of a team opens the door to new social groups since your fandom gives you a connection to people who you may not otherwise have had.
So, why is feeling like part of community and developing new friendships so beneficial for your mental health? For seniors, avoiding isolation is key to staving off loneliness, depression, or mental decline. Strong social bonds can also help reduce your stress and make you more likely to have a healthy diet or exercise.
You may think that sports fandom is a slippery slope to depression if your team is struggling, but there’s actually evidence that points to the contrary. A study from the University of Kansas found that sports fans suffered fewer bouts of depression and alienation than non-sports fans. There are several theories as to why this is the case, from bringing up the same emotions tribal warfare did in the past to feeling reflective glory, or the pride of victory through the successes of your team (even though you’re not the one playing).
A study from the University of Kansas found that sports fans suffered fewer bouts of depression and alienation than non-sports fans.
Being a fan also helps you avoid depression through the community of fans that you join. If your team loses, you may be disappointed, but you have a group of likeminded individuals who can relate to that. This social support can also be effective at lessening existing signs of depression.
Improves Cognition and Mental Skills
Interestingly, playing or even watching sports can help improve mental function, no matter your age. One monumental study from the University of Chicago found that watching sports (or playing them) can improve your language skills related to discussing those sports. Associate Professor of Psychology at the University, Sian Beilock, explained that neural networks that involve comprehension change in the brains of people who watch or play sports, so that they can include areas active in carrying out sports skills.
Strengthens the Body
Inspires Physical Activity
Physically, being a sports fan positively influences healthy exercise habits. One study found an association between sports media viewership and motivation for physical activity, though sustained involvement and improvement was slight. Another study found that 16 percent of French viewers of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi were inspired to become more active after watching the competitions. Research of trends related to the 2012 London Olympics found that similar boosts in motivation were short-lived, though.
While watching sports may not be the only catalyst needed for a lifelong fitness journey, that first spark of inspiration can help if you let it.
So, what do these findings mean for you? Specifically, watching sports and being a fan can give you the initial get-up-and-go to exercise, but this effect is fleeting. Sometimes, however, that initial positive influence may be enough, so long as you decide to keep with it. While watching sports may not be the only catalyst needed for a lifelong fitness journey, that first spark of inspiration can help if you let it.
Demands Physical Activity (If You Go to a Game)
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to attend a game live, you’ll know it can feel as tiring as playing the actual sport. How? Well, depending on the sport, you may be on your feet cheering or celebrating. Then, there’s the walking to get to your seat and the walking back to get to your car. In other words, simply watching sports can provide us with a hidden workout. Note, going to a match probably shouldn’t replace a set workout, but doing some form of physical activity is better than not doing anything.
Simply watching sports can provide us with a hidden workout.
Did you know that, when we watch sports, our heart rate can rise? Studies have found that, when we watch sports, our body can react as if we’re exercising. One study found that our heart rate rises to roughly the same level as when we run. Another found that the body actually gets a tiny workout through emphatic responses in the watcher. Again, watching a sport shouldn’t replace getting traditional exercise, but it’s fascinating how simply watching sports can benefit you.
Health Hazards to Watch Out For
Sports fandom can be associated with some risks that you should also be aware of. While they shouldn’t discourage you from being a fan, knowing these unhealthy risks can help you avoid them.
For one, sports fans tend to eat unhealthier after losses and have higher BMIs than non-sports fans. A large part of this may be due to their diets. Sport venues and stadiums tend to serve fried and unhealthy foods. Additionally, drinking alcohol is a big part of fan culture. You can circumvent these risks by choosing to eat healthier alternatives and to drink in moderation or not drink at all.
You can circumvent these risks by choosing to eat healthier alternatives and to drink in moderation or not drink at all.
Finally, sports fans should be aware of the heart disease and depression risks that comes with their fandom. The heart rate rise we mentioned above as a potential benefit of sports can put you at a heightened risk of having a heart attack if you have a weakened heart. Much of this risk comes down to the stress associated with a close game and the unhealthy lifestyles some people partake in as fans. Finally, some fans can actually experience symptoms of depression, especially after a disappointing game. In these circumstances, it’s important to take a step back and maybe spend time doing something else you enjoy if being a fan is really causing you harm.
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Ultimately, while watching sports may not directly have health benefits, it acts as a package of ways to give yourself mental, emotional, social, and physical benefits that are unique to fandom. So long as you avoid the risks associated with fandom, being a sports fan can be a rewarding, healthy experience!