Your rabid fandom is actually a good thing. (Photo: Stocksy/Yahoo)
There’s no question about it — being a sports fan is a good thing when it comes to your health.
“The idea that people get isolated and porky from watching sports is not true,” clinical sports psychologist William Wiener, PhD, tells Yahoo Health. “It actually connects people and serves as a social catalyst. There are many health benefits of being a sports fan.”
Need evidence? We rounded up the research surrounding fandom and health to show how your team loyalty might actually help you be happier and healthier:
It Prevents Depression
While you might feel sad if your team loses a big game, being an active participant all season can actually help prevent depression. “People who root and are attached to their teams are less depressed than those who are uninvolved,” Wiener says. “It’s a way in which people can engage in their world and stay active and interested in events in their world,” and this is associated with a lower risk of depression. Research backs this up: According to a study out of the University of Kansas, sports fans experience fewer bouts of depression and alienation compared with people who are uninterested in sports.
It Makes Your Relationship Stronger
Watching the game together as a couple can actually create a stronger bond between you and your partner. “There’s some research that suggests that couples who are in it together are more satisfied with their relationship,” Wiener says. “When couples join each other on the couch for Sunday football, they tend to be more satisfied with their relationship than if they completely split off during those times.”
It Could Help You Live Longer
Sure, going for a run and eating right are key factors in living a long and health life. And while you shouldn’t give those up, the social aspect of watching sports can also play a part in your longevity. “We know that people live longer and recover more quickly from an illness when they have strong cases of social support,” Wiener says. “If you have a group of people you watch a game with consistently who offer support when you are down, it does lead to longevity and can keep you active and engaged and alive longer.” In fact, a Brigham Young University shows that maintaining a strong social network not only has benefits for longevity, it also improves odds of surviving cancer and warding off colds.
It Keeps Your Mind Active
“Avid sports fans often break down a game and analyze it as a puzzle in such a way that constitutes mental exercise, and probably in a subtle way keeps the mind sharper and more active over a period of time,” Wiener says. “ It’s mental gymnastics of sorts.” Research backs this up: A study from the University of Chicago shows that a particular part of the brain that is involved in playing sports is used when sports fans and players talk about sports. “We show that non-language related activities, such as playing or watching a sport, enhance one’s ability to understand language about their sport precisely because brain areas normally used to act become highly involved in language understanding,“ study researcher Sian Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago, explained in a statement.
You Could Lose Weight
There’s nothing better than getting outside or to the gym to prevent weight gain. But watching sports also has the ability to inspire people, says Wiener. “It gets people to move to some extent,” he says. “It keeps movement and sports in people’s minds.” Plus, working out while decked out in your team gear can help motivate you: A Glasgow University study showed that people lost more weight — an average of 12 pounds – over a 12-week period when they participated in a “Football Fans in Training” program. The program was run by the staff from 13 Scottish Professional Football League teams, and also included healthy eating advice and encouragement to participate in physical activity while wearing their team regalia.
It Builds Self-Esteem
"Rooting for teams is reflective of a primitive tribal impulse that we all have inside of us that wants our group, our geographic tribe, to prevail,” Wiener explains. “So when local sports teams win, there’s plenty of evidence that people actually feel better about themselves. They wear that apparel with pride and glow a little bit.” Research also suggests that having an allegiance to a team in a community setting results in a sense of belonging and can be beneficial to emotional health.”We know that social support is a health benefit, and when you root for a team you instantly have a way to connect with people and share information about yourself and your opinions in a safe way,” adds Wiener. “It’s a really important way in which people in society can communicate and can get to know each other, and therefore stay more connected to each other and boost your self-image.”
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