We all know what it’s like to be emotionally invested in a sports event, our hearts racing with every point-scoring attempt for either team. This seemingly harmless pastime may be wreaking havoc on our hearts, though. A new study from scientists at the University of Montreal focused on hockey, its fans, and how their devotion may be hurting their cardiovascular health.
“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," explained senior investigator Professor Paul Khairy, MD, PhD.
Khairy and others conducted the study taking pulses of fans at a Montreal Canadiens game. Scientists have studied sports fans and heart health before, but this is the first study to focus specifically on hockey.
They found that hockey fans’ heart rates skyrocketed even when fans were watching the game from the comfort of their own living room - a 75 percent increase from normal, between 60 and 100 beats per minute. This type of heart rate matched that of a person undergoing moderate physical stress, like during exercise. But the heart rates of hockey fans watching a match live, the increase was even more monumental: 110 percent, as if they were currently involved in vigorous exercise.
A metric used in a similar study with soccer fans, a “fan passion score,” was also used in the Khairy’s study, but the score didn’t turn out to be effective at predicting heart rate responses.
“Viewing a hockey game can likewise be the source of an intense emotional stress, as manifested by marked increases in heart rate," Khairy explained..
"The danger is particularly high in the arena and at dramatic moments such as overtime,” said David Waters, MD, and Stanley Nattel, MD, in an accompanying editorial. “At-risk patients should be warned about potential [cardiovascular] symptoms and should be instructed to seek medical attention promptly if symptoms develop.”
The present study was published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.