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Being a Sports Fan Is Good For Your Health

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Being a Sports Fan

We are excited to share one of our fave stories from Prevention here on FitSugar!

By Cristina Goyanes, Prevention

It’s no wonder your friends aren’t available to hang out on Sundays in the Fall and Winter — according to a 2005 Gallup Poll, 64 percent of Americans claim to be professional football fans, and as of 2010, women make up 44 percent of the NFL fan base.

Being a sports fan doesn’t mean you’re expected to know all the players and stats of your hometown teams and destined for a beer gut — it’s about coming together in the name of good times as part of a community.

“Bonding over sports — the highs and lows of the game — strengthens ties, helps us feel supported, and makes it easier for you to open up about personal things,” says Renee Clauselle, PsyD, who runs a private psychology practice in Long Island, NY.

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Rooting for the same team creates an immediate sense of family, says Daniel Wann, PhD, a Murray State University professor who has been studying the psychology of sports fans for over 20 years. “If you identify with a local team, you build an instant connection to others around you,” he says.

Beyond the bonding aspects, watching sports can motivate you to pump up your own workouts — and even burn a few extra calories when you jump, cheer, and clap during the highlights of the game. Find out more ways being a sports fan is a winning situation for your health.

Keep reading to learn how being a sports fan benefits your health.

1. It Inspires You to Get Active.

You’ve seen swimmer Dara Torres’s amazing abs. You can’t take your eyes off tennis pro Maria Sharapova’s legs, which go on for days. Watching these lovely ladies (or their male counterparts) do their thing is enough to get you moving. “Whenever I watch a marathon, I’m inspired to run,” says Kathryn Olson, CEO of the Women’s Sports Foundation. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to play the sport at that level — I’ll run three miles, not 26. Watching them at the top of their game motivates you to get to the top of yours.” It’s not just the pros and their fine physiques that inspire us. You’d be surprised how watching a friend compete in a 5K, marathon, or triathlon might encourage you to work out. “You might catch them walking, laughing, having a good time on the course, and think to yourself, if they can do this, maybe I can,” says Wann. “The more you can relate or connect to a sport (through the action or the athlete), the more likely it will influence you to get moving.”

2. Watching Live Sports Is a Workout in Itself.

OK, so watching big, burly dudes toss around the pigskin might not get you to hit the treadmill, but it can help you torch some calories without even trying. The average 150-pound woman burns more than 100 calories per hour attending a live sporting event. And that’s just while sitting! Walking from your car to the stadium, then up eight or more flights of stairs to your seat, is another way to easily torch a few more calories, not to mention leaping from the bench when your team scores a touchdown. Can’t make it to the live event? No problem — catching the game on TV from your living room couch or perched on a stool at the bar can still burn more than 200 calories during a three-hour football game. Stand up while you socialize for the whole game and burn about 150 more calories!

But don’t eat back all of those calories with a large, salty soft pretzel at the stadium (483 calories) or a goopy serving of nachos with cheese (692 calories). Having two beers — such as Guinness Draught (126 calories per 11.2 ounces) or Amstel Light (95 calories per 12 ounces) — is a better option. Moderate amounts of the frothy brew can help boost your HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce your insulin resistance. Just don’t let too much of a good thing, like beer, turn bad — and into belly fat.

Need a nibble at the game? Buy yourself some high-protein peanuts (160 calories per ounce) and skip the sugary Cracker Jack® (420 calories per box).

3. You’ll Live Longer.

Since research says the odds are that two in five of your girlfriends follow football, consider taking turns hosting a small gathering on Sundays or Monday nights during the season. “It’s nice to have a standing weekly meet-up where you feel connected and part of a group,” says Clauselle.

Maintaining a strong social network, especially one with healthy pals, improves your chance of living longer by 50 percent. It doubles your odds of surviving cancer and wards off colds, according to a Brigham Young University study. “Friends may even reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease,” says lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, a professor of psychology. “Supportive friendships can help you cope with stress, so you’re less likely to suffer its negative physical and emotional effects.” So even if the team you were cheering for loses, at least you’ve got your best buds to cheer you up and help forget about it over laughs.

4. It’s Good For Your Relationships.

Research shows sharing a common interest, like college football, may boost your marital bliss. “The stereotype is that there are many disagreements in relationships over the time spent watching sports, but our evidence says otherwise,” says Lawrence A. Wenner, PhD, a Loyola Marymount University media ethics professor who has studied sports and relationships. “Oftentimes, women view watching sports with their boyfriend or husband as quality time.” It doesn’t matter if he’s the sports fanatic or if she is; as long as they share the interest, they’ve got the edge over couples who are less accommodating and supportive (which can lead to stress and discontent). A supportive, happy marriage is good for your heart health and can help you live longer: happily wedded people who undergo coronary bypass surgery are more than three times as likely to be alive 15 years later as their unmarried counterparts, reports a study published in Health Psychology, an online publication of the American Psychological Association.

Bonus: if his team wins, it could up your chances of getting lucky that night — testosterone, the libido-enhancing hormone, will be surging through his body, and it’s likely he’ll want to keep those good feelings going in the bedroom.

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5. It Will Make You Smarter.

For better, not worse, watching sports might improve your communication and help you stay organized. According to a 2008 study from the University of Chicago, scientists discovered that watching a game is a workout for your brain. In the study, a dozen pro- and college-level hockey players, eight hockey fans, and nine people who had never seen or played the sport were asked to listen to a broadcast of a hockey game while a machine recorded their brain function. Afterward, they were each given a test to analyze their comprehension. Results show that athletes and sports fans not only understood the game much better than their counterparts but also experienced brain activity in motor areas associated with planning, controlling, and performing. This suggests that spectator sports can help you absorb and digest information as well as get you geared up to take action.

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