If you ask a sports fan their favourite month, they just might say February. With major league sports games happening in hockey, basketball and football, there are edge-of-your-seat plays happening on courts, rinks, and fields throughout North America.
February is also Heart Month, a suitable time to look at what happens to your heart when you take in all the nail-biting action of a sports game. Research confirms that being a ‘die-hard’ sports fan can definitely affect your heart.
A study of hockey fans published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology found the heart rate for a typical fan increased from 60 bpm at rest to 114 bpm during the game. Heart rates were 110% higher in those watching live sports vs 75% higher for those watching televised games, and fans reached their peak heart rates during overtime and scoring opportunities.
Dr. Paul Oh, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program at Toronto Rehab, says fans will often feel their hearts racing during an exciting game. This is likely triggered by the game itself, and amplified by the pizza, hot dogs, and beer. He says that’s normal.
“During tense moments in a game, your body releases stress hormones. These hormones can increase heart rate, raise blood pressure, and make blood stickier. It’s similar to the fight-or-flight instinct humans experience. Do your best to relax, take a deep breath and remember it’s just a game.”
Dr. Oh adds if you have a history of cardiovascular health issues, you should consult a healthcare expert if you experience a racing heart or other irregular heart rate symptoms often.
The more regularly you exercise, the easier it is for your body to handle the kinds of heart rate changes that result from the stress and excitement of a big game.
Here are some tips I tell my clients who want to score better heart health:
Build aerobic endurance – Examples of aerobic exercise (also called cardio) include cycling, dancing, hiking, jogging/long distance running, swimming, and walking. And don’t forget to play your favourite sports!
Invest in anaerobic strength – Anaerobic exercise includes high-intensity interval training (HIIT), weightlifting, circuit training (including calisthenics, like squat jumps, box jumps, plyometrics), Pilates, yoga, and other forms of strength training.
Find ways to reduce stress – Exercise helps relieve stress and produce feel-good hormones. You can supplement with deep breathing, meditation, journaling, and 7-9 hours of sleep. Connecting with a friend or family member makes a significant difference too.
Healthy nutrition is critical to good cardiovascular health. Jones suggests lots of fruit and veggies and lean proteins. He also recommends whole grain foods and healthy fats and lowering your sodium intake. And of course, drinking more water helps our bodies function more effectively, including our hearts.
Dr. Paul Oh warns if you think you might be suffering from a heart attack or other conditions, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.