Why Watching Sports May Be Good For Your Health

Why watching sports may be good for your wellbeing

Pull on your jersey and grab your remote, studies show catching a game can lead to positive brain changes. Score!

GRAB YOUR REMOTE and settle in on the couch. Watching sport, often derided as a practice that produces non-responsive couch potatoes, may actually benefit your health and wellbeing and could lead to positive changes in your brain.

With footy season in full swing, the NBA play-offs about to commence and the Olympics on the horizon, there’s no shortage of options for sports fans to get stuck into and that could be a home run, or to use a more tortured Aussie sporting metaphor, a torpedo punt from 60m out on a tight angle, for your health and wellbeing, according to a new Japanese study.

In the study, researchers from Waseda University used a mix of data analysis, self-reports and neuroimaging to explore the connection between sports viewing and wellbeing in the general population, rather than just dedicated sports fans, a group whose mood and wellbeing probably rises and falls with the fortunes of their teams. But among the general population – those who don’t paint their faces or board public transport cloaked in team colours – it appears watching sport can have positive effects.

In the first study, the researchers analysed publicly available data on the influence of watching sports on 20,000 Japanese residents, confirming an ongoing pattern of elevated wellbeing was associated with regular sports viewing. That’s one point for sports.

A second study looked to see if the association between watching sports and wellbeing differed depending on the sport. In this case, 208 participants watched sports videos, with their wellbeing assessed before and after viewing. In this case, popular sports like baseball, huge in Japan (like your buddy, Fritz), had a more significant impact on enhancing wellbeing than less popular sports, such as golf. Two points for watching sports, though not golf, damn.

But it was the final component of the research that drove home the link between watching sport and wellbeing. Using neuroimaging techniques, the brain activity of fourteen able-bodied participants was analysed while they watched sporting clips. Specifically, sports viewing triggered activation in the brain’s reward circuits, indicating feelings of happiness or pleasure. The imaging also showed individuals who reported watching sports more often showed greater grey matter volume in regions associated with reward circuits, suggesting regular sports viewing may gradually induce changes in brain structures. Three points for sports viewing.

“Both subjective and objective measures of wellbeing were found to be positively influenced by engaging in sports viewing,” says study author professor Shintaro Sato. “By inducing structural changes in the brain’s reward system over time, it fosters long-term benefits for individuals. For those seeking to enhance their overall wellbeing, regularly watching sports, particularly popular ones such as baseball or soccer, can serve as an effective remedy.” Game over, watching sports wins.


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