Super Bowl letdown? The big game can be stressful, but you can stay heart-healthy

By Genaro C. Armas, American Heart Association News

FG Trade Latin/E+ via Getty Images
(FG Trade Latin/E+ via Getty Images)

On Super Bowl Sunday, you look forward to watching your favorite NFL team raise the championship trophy. All fun and games until the clock runs out, and the score leaves you feeling angry, blue or disappointed.

For sports fans, watching their team lose the Super Bowl can generate quite a bit of stress, which can affect their physical and mental health. A 2009 study in the American Journal of Cardiology looked at heart-related deaths in the two weeks following two Super Bowl games involving Los Angeles teams. Researchers found death rates increased in 1980 after the Rams lost, many attributed to heart attacks and ischemic heart disease, another name for coronary heart disease. But, in 1984 after the Raiders won, death rates from all causes declined.

A 2021 report in the journal Current Problems in Cardiology found die-hard sports fans, including American football fans, were at increased risk for cardiac events, particularly those with a history of heart disease. The strong emotions of the game may be linked to adverse cardiovascular effects, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate, especially for fans of the losing team, the report found.

"There are behaviors that can be associated with the Super Bowl that are not heart-healthy. You might think, 'One day doesn't make a difference, right?'" said cardiologist Dr. Tamara Horwich, a health sciences clinical professor of medicine and cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But one day of binging in behaviors like excessive drinking, which can lead to high blood pressure, and eating fatty foods that can increase cholesterol levels "can be detrimental to your health," said Horwich, who also is medical director of UCLA's cardiac rehabilitation program.

Make a plan to cut down on stress factors outside of watching the Super Bowl, said Dr. Brandon Mastromartino, an assistant professor of experiential marketing at San Diego State University. His research includes the psychology of sports fans.

The plan could include cutting down on alcohol intake, limiting time on social media and avoiding placing bets on the game.

"Research shows that when your team is doing well, and they win, you experience feelings of mental well-being and boosts in self-esteem," Mastromartino said. "The reverse can happen, too. When your team loses, you feel a little worse about yourself, and you might experience lower self-esteem."

Sports fans are different from fans of other products such as cars or clothing brands because of their unique emotional attachment to teams, according to a 2020 review in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, of which Mastromartino was a co-author. Fans can experience boosts in self-esteem and feelings of belonging by being associated with people with similar passions.

Watching the Super Bowl with friends or at a watch party might help cushion the blow if your team loses, he said. Listening to a postgame call-in show or podcast can be a good outlet by hearing fellow fans express their disappointment.

"If your team loses, it can often bring you closer to other fans of that team, especially if you already have a sense of community with them," Mastromartino said.

Also be aware of what's happening with your own body, Horwich said, such as feeling your heart racing during the game. Get up from your seat and get some exercise, like taking a walk at halftime.

If you're hosting a Super Bowl party, remember to limit the number of salty foods on the table and put out healthier options, including fruits and vegetables. Excess sodium can increase blood pressure, something to avoid if you think watching the Super Bowl could be stressful.

"We don't want to discourage people from watching the Super Bowl, especially if they're watching with family and friends," Horwich said. "That kind of connection is really important to heart health, having fun and cheering on your team."

If you have hypertension, don't forget to take your medicine in the morning. "Make sure you're starting your day at a good place and not forgetting your routine," she said.

And if your team loses, Horwich said, "There's always next year. Remember that."

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