Does watching a match of the XV of France do more harm than good to our body?

Eyes glued to their TV screen, jumping and screaming as if their lives depended on it, sports fans often put their nerves to the test. Alternating between intense stress, extreme joy and deep sadness, fans of football, rugby or other sports know the emotional elevator well. On the occasion of the Rugby World Cup which started last Friday, we wondered if, beyond the knot in the stomach and the racing heart, this emotional roller coaster could be dangerous for our health . Does watching a match do us more harm than good?

In recent years, several deaths of supporters who suffered heart attacks during football matches have been covered in the media. In 2015, a Valencia fan died following a cardiac arrest during a match against Barcelona. Turkey, November 2021: a supporter dies in the same circumstances while his team has just scored a victorious goal in the last minute. January 2022, a Fulham fan. June 2023, a supporter of Saint-Etienne. And we could name many more.

The same heart rate as during a sprint

Can the emotion generated by the match really explain these deaths? Numerous studies have already looked into this question. In 2002, one of them, published in the British Medical Journal focuses on a specific match from the 98 World Cup: the elimination of England in the round of 16 on penalties by Argentina. The researchers found a 25% increase in the number of admissions to English hospitals for myocardial infarction in the two days following this meeting compared to a period without competition.

A result that does not surprise Laurent Uzan, sports cardiologist. “The tension caused by a match creates a rush of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones, which cause the heart to accelerate and blood pressure to rise. » According to him, following your favorite team on TV when you are an invested fan would have the same effects on the body as when you throw a huge tantrum, run a sprint or suffer a shock. emotional following a death or assault. The heart rate skyrockets, going from 60 at rest on average to 120 or even 150 beats per minute. Same spike for blood pressure.

Risk of myocardial infarction and stroke

“This turbulence can weaken and shear atherosclerotic plaques, fatty plaques which form in the wall of the arteries,” summarizes Jean-Jacques Monsuez, cardiologist. A small plaque of cholesterol may break off, forming a blood clot. A few hours or the day after this great stress, the clot can come to block the coronary artery and it is the infarction. » This obstruction causes the destruction of part of the heart muscle and can lead to death.

Intense stress can therefore be felt on the heart, but also on the brain. In 2006, during the World Cup, a team of cardiologists from the University of Munich analyzed the number of admissions to hospitals in Bavaria on Germany’s match days. The researchers found a stroke risk increased by 3.66 for men and 1.82 for women. The mechanism is the same as for the infarction. “Whether they are very positive or very negative, the emotions generated by watching a match increase blood pressure and these surges in hypertension can create cardio-cerebro-vascular complications,” summarizes Yannick Béjot, neurologist and head of the University Hospital Service of Neurology at the CHU Dijon Bourgogne.

A probability increased by the cocktail of alcohol/stress/fatigue, aka beers/football/all-nighters during competitions on the other side of the globe. “Alcohol maintains the secretion of antidiuretic hormones, which leads to dehydration which can increase the risk of stroke,” adds Jean-Jacques Monsuez.

A limited probability, even for populations at risk

But not all supporters are equal when it comes to these diseases. “Stress especially has harmful effects on the body in people with underlying pathologies, whether known or not,” emphasizes François Uzan. Cholesterol, diabetes, excess weight, sedentary lifestyle and smoking are all risk factors. “For them, the phenomenon will act as a “trigger”, a trigger coming to compensate for a pre-existing illness”, analyzes Yannick Béjot.

The doctor advises these people to check that their analyzes are good, especially after the age of 50, an age beyond which the prevalence of cardio-cerebral-vascular diseases becomes significant. “As long as we take treatment and have a healthy lifestyle, the risk is not zero but still greatly reduced,” adds the neurologist. In summary: “It’s good to watch sports on TV, but it’s better to do it,” advises Laurent Uzan.

Rest assured. Even when this risk is increased, it remains low. “In the studies carried out, we see a statistically higher excess risk during competitions but quantitatively very low. There is no influx of patients on match days. We are far from the epidemic, ”tempers Yannick Béjot. Half of the stadium is therefore not going to fall steeply.

Also positive effects

Another reason to reassure yourself: watching a match in a stadium or on TV is also good. A victory for our favorite team will lead to a release of dopamine which activates the reward circuit and provides a feeling of well-being. Functioning comparable to taking drugs, according to the neurologist, but without the risk of dependence.

“It’s really a ying and a yang, with harmful stress on one side and well-being and positive reinforcement on the other,” summarizes Yannick Béjot. Not to mention the more global excitement provided by the victory of a national team during a major competition. So good competition to all! And easy on the heart.

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