Watching the Game? Don’t Take It Too Much to Heart
It’s a well-known fact that Philadelphians live and die by the Eagles. And if some fans aren’t careful—when the team meets the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl—that cliché literally could come true.
Numerous studies have documented an increase in fatal heart attacks and heart failure episodes after a big sporting event—especially in high-stakes games like Sunday’s match-up.
Your pulse races, your body is flooded with the toxic stress hormone cortisol—which has been tagged “public health enemy number one.” Your blood pressure soars. You drink too much. You stuff yourself with sudden-death levels of salty, high-cholesterol fast food. And as one study documents, you avoid going to the emergency room even if you’re beset by symptoms. What if you miss a big play? Or the tray of chicken wings at the tailgate party? Another beer will surely quiet that pain in the chest!
And yes, it’s worse if your team loses.
“In 2005, the year that the Philadelphia Eagles were in the Super Bowl, the days after were the highest heart failure admissions that we saw compared to all other years,” said Vincent Figueredo, MD, chair of cardiology at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Yes, the Eagles lost.
Fans are more vulnerable to heart problems if they already have heart disease, or risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking, Dr. Figueredo said.
But healthy fans can be stricken, too—with a condition colloquially called Broken Heart Syndrome. It can be caused by the heart’s reaction to a surge of stress hormones in response to catastrophe—which some fans would surely consider a fumbled ball in the end zone or, god forbid, an Eagles loss.
Win or lose, at-risk or not, there are ways to protect yourself from sacrificing your health in the name of fandom. Dr. Figueredo said individuals who are already at risk or diagnosed with a heart disorder should keep their health in mind and avoid overeating and overdrinking.
“People should also realize this is just competitive fun and not ‘take it to heart,’” he said.
Just competitive fun? OK. Kidding.