Watching live sports in person may be good for you, researchers say

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Feeling dissatisfied and lonely? You might want to snag tickets to a few of your favorite team’s games. New research connects viewing live sporting events with higher levels of life satisfaction and lower levels of loneliness — and researchers say live sporting events could be used to improve public health.

The study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, looked at data from a survey of 7,209 16- to 85-year-old people living in England. The survey asked participants questions about their lives and well-being, and included questions about whether they attended sporting events.

The analysis showed that attending a live sporting event made for higher self-reported scores on life satisfaction and lower scores on loneliness. Participants who had attended a live sporting event within the past year were more likely to report that their lives were worthwhile — adding a live game into the mix predicted higher self-reported life satisfaction than some demographic factors, such as age or employment, that can indicate how worthwhile someone finds their life.

Researchers observed a similar effect with loneliness, although the effect was not seen with self-reported anxiety or happiness.

The researchers were careful to point out that the data doesn’t mean watching live sports actually causes those gains. But the association is worth exploring further, they say — especially because of the association of reduced loneliness and higher life satisfaction with better overall health.

“Our findings could be useful for shaping future public health strategies, such as offering reduced ticket prices for certain groups,” says Helen Keyes, head of the Anglia Ruskin University School of Psychology and Sport Science and the study’s lead author, in a news release.

The researchers speculate that the social interaction inherent in sporting events can make people feel as if they belong, thus making them less lonely. But more research is needed to determine whether sporting events and not some other factor are responsible for higher life satisfaction scores.

It’s the latest salvo in an ongoing attempt to determine how attending live sporting events affects spectators. But there could be a downside for some attendees: Some studies find that watching sports can lead to health problems associated with a faster heart rate and higher blood pressure brought on by the excitement of a game.

Nonetheless, most “people who choose to watch sports enjoy it and do not experience any health problems during or afterwards,” writes Robert H. Shmerling, a physician and the senior faculty editor of Harvard Health Publishing.

And given the potential benefits of cheering on your favorite team in person, a day at the game might be just what the doctor ordered.

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