Sports can literally give fans a heart attack: study

No matter the sport, any passionate fan will tell you they live and die by their team. Most of the time, though, that’s just an expression. Almost unbelievably, a new study finds that male sports fans may actually be more at risk of a heart attack whenever their favorite team loses. 

We’re all painfully well aware that sports have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. Still, it’s only a matter of time before pro sports are back in one form or another. When that happens, it may be a good idea for fans the world over to practice some deep breathing exercises.

Researchers from the Medical University of Bialystok in Poland tracked the relationship between the performance of their local (European) football team and nearby hospital admissions for acute coronary problems in the hours and days following the conclusion of games. Now, Americans definitely know a thing or two about sports, but it’s hard to put into words just how passionate Europeans are about their football.

“Our study shows that poor results from the local professional football team coincided with more heart attacks in male residents,” says study author Dr. Lukasz Kuzma of the Medical University of Bialystok, in a press release. “The findings suggest that the mental and emotional stress of defeat can provoke cardiac events.”

A total of 10,529 patients with acute coronary problems (heart attack, unstable angina) were analyzed for this project, all of whom were admitted to the Clinical Hospital of the Medical University of Bialystok between 2007 and 2018. So, as you can see this was no short term project, researchers had been collecting data for over 10 years.

That location was chosen because it was the only local hospital offering 24-hour invasive cardiology services. The average age of studied patients was 66.6 years old, and 62% were men.

Over that 11 year observation period, the local football team played 451 games. The following day after the team lost a home game there was an observed 27% spike in admitted men to the hospital for acute coronary issues. However, there was no observed increase in hospital visits among women. So, it seems female fans do a better job of staying calm through the highs and lows of sports fandom.

“Strong emotions can induce heart attacks and our study indicates that losing a home game can affect supporters,” Dr. Kuzma concludes. “Fans, particularly men with unhealthy lifestyles, should take up regular exercise and avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. These steps are the key to supporting your favorite team as long as you wish without damaging your own health.”

For some fanbases, like New England Patriots or New York Yankees fans, it’s generally a pretty good experience to be a fan. Other fanbases and franchises (looking at you New York Knicks) don’t have it quite so easy. That’s part of the beauty of standing by your team, though. The hard times make the big wins and championships that much sweeter. 

At the end of the day, no team or game is worth getting so bent out of shape that one’s heart starts to work overtime. There will always be next season, but we all only have one heart.

The study was recently presented on EAPC Essentials 4 You, a platform of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).