CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s no urban myth that stressful sporting events, especially those in which your team is losing, can have a definite negative impact on heart health.
With the Cincinnati Bengals about to face off against the Los Angeles Rams, football fans from coast-to-coast are likely feeling their blood pressure rise.
Fans in Ohio might be a greater risk as the Bengals haven’t made it to the big game since they played the San Francisco 49ers in 1981 and again in 1988. Both previous defeats happened in California where Super Bowl LVI takes place Sunday, Feb. 13.
Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic caution fans that too much excitement can be harmful for those who already have a heart condition, as well as those who don’t.
Cardiologist Dr. Nicolas Ruthmann calls Super Bowl Sunday our “biggest unofficial holiday” and a time when people generally overdo things like eating, drinking and shouting.
If you combine those activities with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, or if you smoke, or are overweight, you could be in trouble, he said.
“All of that can come together and form a perfect storm and increase your risk on the big day of the big game for a heart attack then,” Ruthmann said.
Researchers have similar findings after taking a closer look at the cardiac trends during and after high-profile sporting events.
A study in 2019 found a correlation between viewing football games and fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, for both men and women. The study found the risk of cardiovascular event higher for fans whose teams were losing and a lower risk for those whose team had a victory.
Another study done in 2020 pooled findings from 19 other studies and found an increased risk of hospitalization because of non-fatal cardiovascular events related to watching major football games.
But Ruthmann said fans can take steps to protect themselves and stress can be avoided or reduced:
- Take short breaks when players take breaks
- Drink water to stay hydrated
- Limit unhealthy food and opt for fruits and vegetables
- Limit alcohol intake
- Take your regular medications
- Monitor blood pressure or diabetes
It’s important to seek medical care immediately if you experience discomfort, he said, such as chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath or an overall feeling of unwellness.
“That is the biggest thing I can offer is to call 911. If you have an aspirin, chew it on your route and to seek attention,” Ruthmann said.