Watching a hockey match may stress the heart, warn researchers

The excitement of watching a hockey match has been found to have a significant effect on the cardiovascular system, suggesting a potential link between watching sporting events and cardiac incidents.

Editorial Credit: Sergei Bachlakov/Shutterstock.com

According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, healthy spectators who had their pulses monitored whilst watching a Montreal Canadiens game on TV had an average increase in heart rate of 75%, which is equivalent to the heart rate response that occurs during moderate exercise.

Among fans who watched the game in person, the average heart rate was bumped up by a whopping 110%, which is equivalent to the response triggered by vigorous exercise. Across all spectators, the overall heart rate increased by an median of 92%.

Senior investigator Paul Khairy (Montreal Heart Institute, University of Montreal) says the results have important public health implications:

The study raises the potential that the emotional stress-induced response of viewing a hockey game can trigger adverse cardiovascular events on a population level."

Interestingly, the heart-pounding moments did not necessarily occur at the end of the game, as might be expected. The peaks in heart rate were most frequent when either team had an opportunity to score and during overtime.

Khairy says: “The analysis supports the notion that it is not the outcome of the game that primarily determines the intensity of the emotional stress response, but rather the excitement experienced with viewing high-stakes or high-intensity portions of the game."

Previous research has demonstrated an association between watching sports and cardiovascular events in people who already have coronary heart disease and experts say that this research should prompt doctors to talk to their at-risk patients about the dangers of an exciting hockey game triggering a cardiovascular (CV) event.

Authors of an accompanying editorial, David Waters and Stanley Nattel, warn that the danger is particularly high in the arena and at dramatic moments such as overtime: “At-risk patients should be warned about potential CV symptoms and should be instructed to seek medical attention promptly if symptoms develop."

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