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Living Vicariously Through Sports Teams: Is It Healthy?

Dedication is great for the athletes, but may not be so great for their loyal fans.

The Highs and Lows of Winning and Losing

Die-hard sports fans root for their teams through good times and bad. It provides fans with a sense of camaraderie and belonging as they connect over the triumphs and defeats of their favorite team. For some a strong connection to a team may even affect their self-esteem.

Post-game moods tend to be quite predictable. During the euphoria of a win, fans share in the glory, give high-fives to each other, and when referring to the game say, "We won."

Dedicated supporters are proud of their allegiance, but sometimes team spirit can be carried too far. For some fans, team spirit can be an excuse for violent behavior. For example, riots by fans after a team wins have plagued some United States cities, as well as European soccer venues.

When not victorious, fans deflect the blame, saying, "They lost." Those who feel a strong connection with the team tend to feel angry, upset, or depressed. After such a loss, fans can also suffer from symptoms of depression such as feeling tired, irritable, and hopeless. These feelings can also occur at the end of a season when fans are no longer able to look forward to watching their teams play.

The Physical Effects of Spectator Sports

Rooting for our teams certainly has its ups and downs emotionally. Spectator sports can also result in health problems for some who get too emotionally involved in a game.

Some studies have revealed that sports fans, particularly men, have an increased risk of heart attack regardless of the outcome of the game. The uncertainty of the game results in an increase in stress, which, in turn, has lead to increased hospitalizations during some championship games.

Reducing Your Risk

There are lifestyle factors that you may want to change to improve your mental and physical well-being as you root, root, root for the home team. Consider the following tips:

RESOURCES:

American Psychological Association
http://www.apa.org

Mental Health America
http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Psychological Association
http://www.cpa.ca

Canadian Psychiatric Association
http://www.cpa-apc.org

REFERENCES:

Fans suffer end of season blues. BBC News website. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/2949300.stm. Published May 30, 2003. Accessed January 29, 2018.

Knox R. Sports fans' stress can be heart hazard. NPR website. Available at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18544386. Published January 30, 2008. Accessed January 29, 2008.

Ohio State mental health expert says for many sports fans, it's not just a game. The Ohio State University website. Available at: http://www.livescience.com/43001-the-super-bowl-is-not-just-a-game.html. Published January 30, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2018.

Last reviewed January 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review BoardMichael Woods, MD, FAAP  Last Updated: 1/29/2014