Experts Say Watching Sports is Good for You 

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Studies show the surprising health benefits of watching sports 

Everybody can agree that watching sports is fun, whether it involves shouting at the TV, cursing the bad calls, or cheering on your favorite team with your nearest and dearest. But beyond the overall excitement and good times that come from traditions like tailgating and going to a stadium or ballpark, watching sports is good for you and there are numerous studies to prove it.  

Self-esteem Hits a Homerun  

When it comes to sports fanatics, self-esteem scores big points after a team victory. A study from Ohio State University found that sports fans enjoyed at least two full days of improved self-esteem after their team clinched a win.  

The study also found that fans on the losing side still had a boost in happiness and self-esteem when surrounded by friends in a group setting. As co-author and professor of communication at OSU Sylvia Knobloch-Westerwick explains, “Just feeling connected to others while watching the game helped sustain self-esteem.” She also points out how sharing the pain of defeat may have protected fans from taking a hit in self-esteem.  

Another notable finding of the study is the way a game was watched. The participants that watched the game by themselves ranked significantly lower in self-esteem levels. And for those who didn’t watch the game at all, their self-esteem levels dropped. “People who didn’t watch couldn’t participate in the conversations, which probably led to a loss of self-esteem,” Knobloch-Westerwick theorizes.  

A Slam Dunk for Escapism  

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According to psychologists, there is a deeper meaning behind the famous lyrics of the seventh inning stretch – take me out to the ballgame. When sports fans attend a live game, they are both physically and mentally escaping the stress of their everyday lives. As psychologist Dr. Michael Brein from WebMD explains, “Travel escapism that invites you to increase your feelings of self-esteem and self-confidence…tends to ground you in the present and requires you to deal with virtually everything that is normally mindless back home.”  

Sports fans can take a break from stress just by watching sports on TV, but experts say the further they travel to see a live game, the more benefits of escapism, such as living in the moment and getting lost in the excitement.  

Diehard Fans Win Big in Mental Resilience 

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It may seem overkill to outsiders when diehard fans yell at the TV or complain about bad calls. But research has found that this expression of frustration can help individuals resolve negative feelings when a team plays badly. Referred to as imagined interactions by experts, the act of venting these frustrations has a lengthy list of benefits. Experts say that diehard sports fans are better at conflict resolution, maintaining relationships, letting go of stress, and being mentally prepared for life’s curveballs.  

Research has also found that this type of expression helps people practice high-level communication, which in turn, helps promote a better sense of self-understanding. In other words, diehard fans might feel disappointed when their team loses, but the benefits of watching sports and getting excited go beyond winning or losing a game.  

Your Brain on Sports 

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In the field of sports fan science, researchers have also found that watching sports hits it out of the park for boosting cognitive health. When the spectating brain steps up to the plate and watches the game, it becomes a playing brain.  

As Luzette Borelli from Medical Daily explains, “When we’re watching sports…we begin to place ourselves in the ‘athlete’s shoes’ thanks to mirror neurons primarily found in the right side of the brain.” The activation of these neurotransmitters allows spectators to generate similar hormone production such as feel-good dopamine, which helps with mood regulation. This brain stimulation explains why sports fans get hooked and keep coming back for more excitement.  

Other Benefits of Watching Sports  

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Can Watching Sports Make You Fitter? 

Along with activating mirror neurons, the benefits of watching sports also include the stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system. In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Autonomic Neuroscience, researchers found that when participants watched sports, their blood flow, respiration, sweating, and heart rate increased.  

While watching sports all day isn’t a substitute for an actual workout, tuning into a game instead of binging the latest series or movie has more physical benefits. As Nikki Donnelly from Men‘s Journal puts it, “If you can’t do it, watch it.” 

Can Watching Sports Improve Athletic Performance?  

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There is a reason coaches include watching sports as part of every player’s off-the-field training. According to sports psychologist and author of Your Performing Edge JoAnn Dahlkoetter, Ph.D., athletes that actively watch sports on TV have a better chance of improving their performance. “You’re watching a model of correct performance and your brain is taking that in,” she says.  

Mental Rehearsal Crosses the Goal Line  

If you’re wondering how to improve athletic ability by watching sports, Dahlkoetter recommends viewing a 5 to 10-minute segment before bed so you’re more likely to dream about it and make those neurological connections.  

Referred to as mental rehearsal, fantasizing about playing sports engages your prefrontal cortex, which not only activates your adrenaline and raises your heart rate, but also prepares the brain for future athletic performance. Actual practice makes perfect, but watching sports also contributes to an athlete’s training.  

Dreamstime

An escape from stress, a self-esteem booster, along with improved cognitive function and better athletic performance – sports fans can feel good about meeting all their game-watching goals. Ready, set, grab the remote!  

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I like that you mentioned how sports fans are both physically and mentally escaping the stress of their everyday lives by attending a live game. Our family loves sports so we’re thinking of watching a live game as part of our family activities. My dad especially loves baseball so we’ll probably watch a match next month.

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