#COYBIG health check: Is watching football good for you?

From baby booms to heart health - the Republic of Ireland’s campaign is sure to have an impact

Are we looking at a “Robbie Generation” baby boom after the Euros? Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

Are we looking at a “Robbie Generation” baby boom after the Euros? Photograph:James Crombie/Inpho

 

It’s safe to say we are at Italia ’90 levels of national hysteria and we’re all hoping it won’t be abating anytime soon. But how does this hysteria and the watching the Euros affect our health?

Let’s go to the happy patter of tiny football feet first. Next March we can expect a few more Robbies and Weses than would be usual…and not just in terms of the names.

Research commissioned Three, sponsors of the Ireland team, ahead of the tournament showed that 93 per cent of us are anticipating a tangible lift in the mood of the nation during the Euros, with 15 per cent suggesting a baby boom following this summer of Irish football.

There is form in this regard – Barcelona winning the Champions League in 2009 sparked a baby boom the following February and numbers were still up in March. Scientists confirmed that the number of births in February was up 16 per cent and 11 per cent in March. They were dubbed the “Iniesta Generation” after Andres Iniesta who scored the winning goal.

In 2007, nine months after the World Cup it was German midwives who had to be on the ball as the country celebrated an unprecedented baby boom. A survey by Die Zeit showed that in some parts the birthrate in March was up by almost 30 per cent on the same period the year before. The offspring were dubbed the “Klinsi Generation” after the football coach Jürgen Klinsmann, who led the team to third place. The unexpected success of the team, great weather and the general feel-good host factor, is all thought to have played a significant role.

If Brexit doesn’t damped the mood, we could be looking at the “Robbie Generation”.

In other areas of your heart, the link between stressful events and heart attacks is well documented, including in the context of the football. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine conducted in the Munich area during the 2006 World Cup found that viewing “a stressful soccer match more than double(d) the risk of an acute cardiovascular event”. Another study conducted in England after the 1998 Wrold Cup and published in the British Medical Journal found a similar effect, but only for an especially stressful match.

The stress of watching your team can also lead to high blood pressure and other medical problems. At this stage, we won’t touch on the blues and feelings of depression following your team’s exit of the end of a tournament.

In terms of diet, most foods typically consumed during a match - think crisps, chips, chicken wings, nachos, pizza, etc – are typically high in salt, fat, sugar, calories, preservatives and artificial ingredients. And that’s before we look at alcohol consumption or the fact that viewers tend to lose track of what they are eating because they are concentrating on the game. Though a single game may not lead to permanent weight gain, five straight weeks of football-induced binges certainly isn’t healthy. If you have a pre-existing disease like diabetes or heart problems, a single episode of bad eating could even precipitate a medical emergency.

On the bright side, cheering while watching a game does provide some physical activity, so don’t stay sitting. Stand up, jump, shout and maybe even get inspired to kick a ball around before the game.

While on the subject of cheering, the emotional release gained from watching football can have health benefits. Watching your national team allows behaviour and outbursts that may not be acceptable elsewhere. There aren’t many excuses to paint your face, laugh cry and shout in public when you are an adult. We know that hugging is stress-reducing and causes a release of oxytocin, often called “the bonding hormone” because it promotes attachment in relationships.

Studies have shown hugging protects against the common cold virus (based on a 2015 study of 404 adults) and the oxytocin release that comes with it can then have trickle-down effects throughout the body, causing a decrease in heart rate and a drop in the stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine. We won’t turn that down tomorrow.

On that note, stay hydrated and … #COYBIG

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