Do You Have Sportsfanitis?: The Health Effects of Being a Sports Fan

It’s been a long 24 hours for me since the Flyers were bounced from the second round in five games by the New Jersey Devils.

These 2012 playoffs were filled with so many different emotions—it’s cliché to call it a rollercoaster ride, but I really can’t think of a better way to describe it.

As a sports fan, specifically one of the Philadelphia variety, it’s common to have these kinds of experiences. I invest a great deal of emotion in sports, some more than others, but I still get mentally tied up in them all.

To use yet another sports-cliché, it’d be pretty accurate to say that I live and die with my teams.

With how wide the range of emotions were for these playoffs (on top of the terrible mood the Phillies are putting me in, the anger that the Eagles left me with, and the confusion the Sixers are filling me with) I’ve become increasingly curious as to if there are any legitimate side effects of being a sports fan.

Well, after spending some time on the interwebs—and thanks to the power of Google—I’ve come across some interesting studies that all lead to a similar conclusion. It’s quite possible, depending on the level of investment, for someone to actually, literally, physically, live and die with their favorite team.

Let’s take a looksies at the various symptoms of Sportsfanitis (WebMD can credit me for coining this term when they decide to accept it as actual English):

Increase in Socialite-ness

Any good fan has several other fans that they like to associate with. Better known as friends, these individuals provide a fan with a built-in support network. Uniting around a specific cause, in this case your favorite team, helps to create a mini community.

Hanging out with like-minded individuals is always a good thing. You can share your emotions (the ones your feeling towards your team—or more personal emotions if you’re on that level) with one another. It’s good to not be a loser who sits at home knitting all day/night every day/night. For those that do do that, I appreciate my new scarf and wool hat that I get for Christmas every year. I’m glad you make that sacrifice for me so I can be social with friends and root for my team.

Too Much Socialite-ness = Being a Drunk

Any good sports fan knows the art of tailgating. Show up hours before the game, take over the parking lot with a kegs and grills, have a blast, and eventually make your way into the stadium to cheer on your team.

This is where the devil and angel pop up on your shoulders.

Once you’re in the stadium do you choose to continue drinking, or be smart and stick to some bottles of Dasani, or the souvenir soda? Personally, I’m better off not paying $75 for a 12-ounce can of beer.

Unfortunately, many sports fans open those wallets and down beer after beer during the game.

I’m not going to start preaching about not drinking, or staying sober, or being responsible, or the health effects, you all know enough about that. But we’ve all seen—and hopefully have never been—that drunk d-bag at a game (or at the bar watching a game) that stumbles all over the place. They can’t stand straight, and even worse, they slur through the chants and spit all over the people around them. Eventually they’ll get thrown out for trying to start a fight or getting sick everywhere or something. Bleh. Moving on.

High testosterone much?

Increased Testosterone (The Good)

The simple act of watching sports increases a man’s testosterone levels. Separate studies have shown that these levels increased when someone watched their team win (in person, or on TV), and that viewing a previously recorded game can have a similar effect.

Simply put, higher testosterone means more energy. Be macho. Watch sports.

Increased Testosterone (The Bad)

Feeling macho can be a good thing, but when we’re talking about sports fans it likely will not end well. Mixing fans of different teams, in particular heated rivals, with massive amounts of Natitude testosterone spewing all over the place is like a chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong.

A study done by Injury Prevention revealed that assault-related emergency room visits spiked in a small European town whenever the local soccer team won a match.

I’m sure that holds some truth, but it goes way beyond a team simply winning.

The essence of being a sports fan is being proud of and standing up for your team. Crowds filled with opposing fans that are rowdy, fired up, and proud will almost absolutely end up with at least one fight or scrum. It’s just how it is. No this isn’t just what I know because I’m from Philly. This is the case throughout the globe. Futbol fans throughout the world are used to dealing with violence in the stands.

Winning = Emotional Boost

The best example I have of this in my lifetime is 2008. I’ve never had a higher high as a sports fan than watching Brad Lidge fall to his knees and embrace Carlos Ruiz after striking out Eric Hinske. The Phillies were “World Champions of baseball” as Harry Kalas so eloquently put it. The days that followed were filled with so much positive, culminating in the parade down Broad Street.

The first 21 years of my life were championshipless, and to have all of that wiped away felt so damn good. Something I’ll never forget.

Gregg Steinberg, PhD, a professor of sports psychology at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee says there’s even a term coined for the emotional boost: “BIRGing, or Basking In Reflected Glory, means that when your team wins, you get a boost to your ego and to your health,” he says. Research backs this up. According to a study from the University of Kansas, sports fans suffer fewer bouts of depression and alienation than their uninterested peers.

Depressed much?

Losing = Depression

Makes sense, right?

I’ve dealt with this for the better part of my 24 years as a fan of Philadelphia sports fan. Four times a year I’m typically very disappointed in how a season ends.

Steinberg had more to say on this. “Fans will feel demotivated and depressed when their team loses,” he says. “In extreme cases, they may actually experience situational depression, which is typically brought on by extremely stressful or hopeless circumstances. It’s different from major depression in that it’s temporary, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less serious.”

Now, I don’t think I’d go as far as saying I legitimately suffered from this. Over time, though, this becomes more of a reality for fans who, as they say, live and die with their team.

Watching Sports Increases Intelligence

I’m going to leave this one entirely up to the experts:

“Research shows that regularly listening to and watching sports actually stimulates different areas of your brain than regular programming and even improves certain neurological functions. In one University of Chicago study, hockey players and fans listening to a hockey game broadcast used more parts of their brain, especially those related to controlling, planning, and performing, than a group of nonfans listening to the same broadcast.

‘All sports require planning, strategy, and reaction,’ says LeslieBeth Wish, EdD, a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker in Florida. ‘Watching a game makes you boost your thinking and visualize abilities. You are challenged.’ So even if you’re not active, your brain is.”

Thanks, Doc.

Increased Risk of Heart Problems

The habits of a deeply invested sports fan are no joke. The emotional roller coaster can have some pretty heavy effects on that thing that keeps your blood flowing. Increased blood pressure and high levels of stress can really put a strain on the heart.

Aside from the strain caused by emotions, researchers also blame the eating habits (during the game) of sports fans can lead to heart problems. “All those fatty foods can make the blood vessels less able to dilate, which limits their ability to supply the necessary additional oxygen to the heart,” says Rallie McAllister, MD, a family physician in Lexington, Kentucky.

There you have it. You’ve been warned of the negatives and made aware of the positives. Cheer at your own risk. Being a fan of sports does take a toll on a person’s health. Maybe from now on I’ll back off of the whole “live and die” talk. I’m happy just being alive and having some teams to root for.

Research/scientifical info courtesy


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I'm an editor for Associations Now, a magazine pubished by ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. I live in Springfield, VA with my amazing wife, and am enjoying the ride that life is taking me on.


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