is hockey health a hazard?


author: ethan williams| staff writer

So you want to cheer on your beloved team? Better cool it the next time you switch on the game./Wikimedia Commons


Research shows intense fans can develop cardiovascular issues

Ah, October. That glorious time of the year for sitting in front of your TV and watching endless hours of NHL hockey. After all, it has only been mere months since the last time any games were on, it is time to soak it all in. However, the next time you throw on that Habs jersey, or wave a Canucks flag with pride, consider this: watching the game so many love may not exactly be the best for your health.

A recent study from the Montreal Heart Institute, according to an article in the Globe and Mail, says that watching professional hockey may lead to cardiovascular diseases. The study monitored Montreal Canadiens fans who watched the game both at home, and live at the arena. On average, TV audience’s heart rates spiked 75 percent, while those at the games saw an increase of a whopping 110 per cent.

The Globe and Mail interviewed Dr. Paul Khairy, a cardiologist and the study’s senior investigator, on the issue.

“Our results indicate that viewing a hockey game can be the source of an intense emotional stress, as manifested by marked increases in heart rate.”

So just how did Dr. Khairy go about conducting the research for this project? He turned to his own family for some help. His 13-year-old daughter, Leila, and her classmate Roxana were the ones who designed the research and then carried it out. Both girls are teammates on a soccer league in Montreal, and were major contributors to the project.

“We both play competitive sports and as we play, of course, our hearts are pumping because we’re stressed and we’re running and doing physical activity. But then there’s our parents on the sidelines that are jumping up and down, almost going crazy,” Leila said.

“When we end the game, our parents are like, ‘Oh my God, that was so stressful.’ But you were just watching the game. So we wondered what the impact was on their hearts…maybe their hearts are, like, beating so fast that it’s almost as if it was (like) physical activity,” added Roxana.

Once Khairy was informed of the girls’ idea, he took it to the Montreal Heart Institute. Researchers there sought out willing participants, and equipped them with a cardio monitor known as a Holter. The device measures a person’s heart rhythm beat by beat. The participants in the project were aged 23to 63.

Half watched at home, the other half at the rink. Those who watched the game live experienced a heart rate ten beats-per-minute faster than those who watched at home. Khairy mentions that watching the game can be equivalent to doing physical activity.

“If you look at how physical stress response is classified … watching a game on television is associated with a heart rate response similar to a moderate physical stress, whereas live was associated with a response equivalent to a vigorous physical stress.”

The girls’ ingenuity didn’t stop there, however. They also looked to see if any particular part of the game caused heart rates to spike. This research was surprising to Khairy.

“And that was interesting as well because they found it wasn’t so much the outcome of the game that mattered – in terms of whether the team won or lost or even who they were playing against – but it was determined more by the high-intensity portions of the game, such as overtime periods and scoring opportunities for the supported team.”

Adding to the discrepancy between the game’s outcome and intensity were fan “passion scores,” which were surveys that measured emotional attachment to a team. The research team found it did not influence heart rate, which was a surprising find.

“It may be due to the fact that that was a scoring system designed and validated in soccer fans, but we suspect that perhaps that if a fan passion score was specifically designed and validated in hockey spectators that there still is the potential that it would yield different results,” Khairy said.

On the topic of soccer, according to the article, similar research has been carried out in Europe, where the heart rates of soccer fans have been monitored. Heart attacks and strokes rose twenty-five to fifty per cent during the days that games were played.

In addition, Khairy says that this research could be used on other sports teams too. He went on to say that hockey fans should continue to cheer on and not let the findings be a deterrent to cheering on their favourite team.

“I think the overall message here is I don’t think we should be discouraging people from enjoying life and watching (their team) … But having said that, when we know what the risks are, then we’re better equipped to minimize those risks.”

So gather around the TV, hockey fans, but don’t let the Oilers game get you too wound up. After all, no matter the outcome of the game, a loss is still much better than ending up in Emergency suffering from a heart attack or a stroke.



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