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  • Writer's pictureDr Victor Thompson

Being a football fan can be bad for your health!

I was interviewed by TRT World TV News on research published today on the health risks associated with being a football fan. The research was published in the Journal Stress and Health by the University of Oxford (see the BBC here).

I thought that I would write a short piece on this interesting research, so here goes:

The Oxford study tested saliva from Brazilian fans during the 2014 World Cup. This World Cup was on home soil. Brazilian supporters and a passionate group. Imagine for a moment how much hope fans had for their team – a strong team on the world stage – for them winning the World Cup once again, on home soil, in what would have been a perfect World Cup. Samples of the fans’ saliva taken at the semi-final game against Germany, where Germany outplayed Brazil by a massive 7-1 difference showed elevated levels of cortisol – an important stress hormone.

Cortisol can increase health risks through constricting blood vessels, increasing blood pressure and stressing the heart. For people who are vulnerable, this risk may, well, be quite a risk.

Why is being a football fan so stressful?

1. Because we perceive this match as being very important

2. Because we are not sure that it will go well

3. Because football is the big thing in our life

4. Because those around us (friends, other fans) are also wound-up by this match

How might we know if we are a stressed-out football fan?

1. We are struggling to sleep the night before our team plays

2. Our appetite reduces (or, for some of us, we overeat)

3. We are drinking to help us cope or feel better

4. We are more irritable than usual

How, as a fan, can I stress-less?

1. See the game as important, but not a massive deal

2. See that this is not the only thing in my life

3. See how the game is an opportunity, an exciting thing

4. Find time to chill after a game – no matter how it goes

5. Limit time on social media – particularly the angry, outraged and negative stuff

This doesn’t just apply to football fans, but any sports fans. If the sport is important to us, the event is big, and we are with likeminded people, perspective can be lost and stress can be a consequence. Embrace the fun and excitement. But be wary of the stress, anger and lows that can be toxic to your health.

Until the next time, best wishes, Victor

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