Couch potatoes might never have predicted it, but simply watching sports may be hazardous to your health.
That edge-of-your-seat tension in the midst of a tie game, shootout or penalty kick could indeed increase the danger of sudden death.
A new British study has found that these can literally be heart-stopping moments.
During the 1998 soccer World Cup, researchers discovered that the risk of hospital admissions due to heart attacks rose 25 per cent in England on the day the home team lost to Argentina in an overtime penalty shootout, and for the following two days.
"The increase in admissions suggests that myocardial infarction can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match," concluded researchers from the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of Birmingham.
"Given that matches between England and Argentina always produce intense rivalry, and the fact that it was a knockout game, football [soccer]fans would have experienced a fair amount of tension before and during the match," wrote Douglas Carroll, professor of applied psychology and lead author of the report published this week in the British Medical Journal.
Although the paper is included among the journal's annual Christmas collection of bizarre studies, (such as the investigation showing there's no truth to the Egyptian mummy's curse), the football report does not come completely out of left field.
Dutch research found a spike in mortality following the quarter-final soccer match between the Netherlands and France during the 1996 European Cup. As well, the paper notes that during this year's World Cup, two South Korea fans, both healthy men in their 20s, died of heart attacks during their team's stunning victory over Italy.
The Birmingham paper includes case studies done on spectators who watched the England-Argentina game in 1998 and found cardiac function to be "perturbed" during the viewing, and increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
Dr. Carroll and colleagues admit the association may seem inappropriate, but they suggest that the psychosocial effects of major football tournaments are not unlike those associated with natural disasters and states of war.
An increase of cardiac deaths, for example, has been linked to earthquakes in Athens, Japan and California. Heart attacks also spiked during the peak of the Iraqi missile attacks on Israel in 1991 and during the war in Croatia.
The British researchers ruled recklessness did not play a role in heart-attack increases during the football match since they found no spike in traffic injuries or self harm. But they could not rule out the effects of excessive drinking and smoking.
One of the other unusual reports contained in this edition of the British Medical Journal deals with yet another pastime, specifically that 50-year-old publication known as Playboy.
Researchers at York University in Toronto and the University of Vienna Medical School analyzed every centrefold the men's magazine ever produced between 1953 and 2001. They found that in bygone days, Playboy models more closely resembled the general population in their large bust sizes and smaller waist-to-hip ratios. "Today's models look much less curvy than the general population," said Maryanne Fisher, Phd student in York's psychology department.
Ms. Fisher said she and co-author Martin Voracek undertook the project because a 1990s study surveying the hip-to-waist ratios of Playboy centrefolds had become a standard measurement of "attractiveness" in psychology circles.
But this notion has now been upended with the new study, since Ms. Fisher and colleagues found bust sizes shrinking along with hips, while waists expand, creating a more "androgynous" image.