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The surprising health benefits of sports – even if you’re only spectating!

21 Jul 2022 | Written by By Kathy Feest


Two teams head to head, playing American football

When you waitress in a restaurant/club filled with Jocks and Stews (Sportsmen and Stewardesses in America) you get to like sportsmen! When they’ve finished with their evening of letting their hair down and impressing the Stews, they generously tip, which helped me pay my rent. At least that was my experience more than fifty years ago when, as a teenager, I waitressed in one of the many New York sports clubs where such football players gathered.  

There are few people this side of the Atlantic who would ever have known the famous names of sportsmen (and in my day they were all men) that I placed drinks or a meal in front of, but at that time, they were well known to most Americans. Joe Namath, an American quarterback for the New York Jets, nicknamed Broadway Joe, as he always tried to impress on and off the field… is the only name I remember. There was the big Southern guy who always drank Jack Daniels on the rocks, and the other players who didn’t drink anything but beer. Some of them drank so much I couldn’t believe they would be able to get out on the football field in the next few days and run and tackle and get their football over the goal posts. But they did!  Now they, too, are all in their 70s and beyond. I wonder if they are still playing sport? Or, like many of us, have they become spectators? 

Spectators remain vitally important to sporting games! Remember Covid? There were initially no fans in any stadium when football or rugby or any other sports resumed, and it was a very different watch. During Covid, television viewers could opt to turn crowd noise on or off and pretend there were fans cheering and excited by the spectacle of the beautiful game. It made fans feel less lonely apparently, and more part of something sporting. 

What is it that keeps us watching? Part of the thrill for many people is not knowing the outcome. No one knows which team – or person if tennis, Formula One, or athletics is your favourite – is going to pull off an upset. How thrilling that becomes as we watch and participate, cheering on our favourite team, or person and hoping they will get the win.  

Recent research suggests that fans get more than a mental boost from watching their favourite football teams. A study by the University of Leeds reveals that there are many positive benefits from engaging with our favourite teams. 

The Leeds research discovered that heart rate levels during a football match are elevated to a similar level to that of going for a brisk walk.  A goal for either team increased heart rate on average by 20 bpm.  So watching sport has been proven to be good for us! In addition, when our team wins, we experience a dip in blood pressure and an increase in positive mood and excitement. Pick your teams carefully though, a losing team resulted in a slump in mood. More research into other sports needs to be carried out, but it is likely that these findings are not just in football. 

My household watches rugby, football (soccer), and cricket. When our son was growing up there was also pool (the one played with a cue), the occasional golf match, and always tennis.   I love rugby, tolerate football, enjoy some tennis, and leave the room when the cricket begins. But I get it! Sports are part of our lives and they enrich us.  

Watching people who are excellent at what they do also appears to increase our own creativity. Top athletes of every sort of sport are inspirational and can remind us of our own ability in whatever field we are interested in, and that doesn’t have to have anything to do with sports.

Being a spectator is great as far as it goes, but we all need to continue to move, especially as we age.  The NHS gives us some tips on how to do that if we are over sixty-five

A woman floating in an empty pool

I will be 70 next year. I’m a swimmer. I swim up to five times a week most weeks. What do you do? What sport do you watch? Both are good for you. Just remember, keep moving! And if you’re a supporter of a football club that has recently gone down a division, my positive thoughts are with you!  

Which sports do you enjoy? Are you a spectator or a player? Share your thoughts with fellow members in the comments below!

Kathy Feest has a wealth of experience with writing, leadership and personal development mentoring. Kathy fulfilled her dream at the age of forty-one and earned her first University degree; she went on to complete a PhD in Medical Education. She regularly runs self-development workshops at The Joy Club so keep your eyes peeled on our Events calendar for one of her next live sessions for members.

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