Living Vicariously Through Sports Teams: Is It Healthy?
En Español (Spanish Version)

Avid sports fans shiver through snowstorms and broil under the hot sun to cheer on their teams. Such dedication is great for the athletes, but how does it affect the people in the stands?

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:

  • Drink in moderation. Alcohol acts as a depressant and can make you feel worse when upset.
  • Avoid gambling, which may increase stress levels.
  • Take frequent breaks, especially if you experience strong emotions.
  • Turn off the volume on your TV. Reducing noise levels can help you calm down if you are upset.
  • Exercise to reduce stress levels before the game.
  • Avoid fans who tend to overreact and opt to watch a game with friends who get less upset.
  • Make healthy food choices.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
  • Maintain normal sleep routines.

American Psychological Association

Canadian Psychological Association

Canadian Psychiatric Association

Fans suffer end of season blues. BBC News website. Available at: Published May 30, 2003. Accessed January 29, 2014.

Knox R. Sports fans' stress can be heart hazard. NPR website. Available at: Published January 30, 2008. Accessed January 29, 2014.

Ohio State mental health expert says for many sports fans, it's not just a game. The Ohio State University website. Available at:,-It-%27s-Not-%27Just-A-Game%27.aspx. Published January 27, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2014.

Last Reviewed January 2014

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