Skip to main content

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter