Is Watching the Super Bowl Worth Your Life?

Alcohol, excitement, stress, prolonged sitting, and fatty foods combine to create an unwholesome atmosphere like no other.

This article originally appeared in the Newton blog on RealClearScience. You can read the original here


Dr. Jeffrey Kalina, the Associate Medical Director at Houston's Methodist Hospital, enjoys the Super Bowl. The ensuing hours after the final whistle? Not so much.

"Quite frankly, we just dread the hours after the game," he told ESPN.

Kalina has some crazy stories.

"I saw a guy with several broken teeth. He was opening beer bottles with them. He didn't do so well," Kalina recalled.

There's no denying it, the Super Bowl can be quite hazardous to your health. Alcohol, excitement, stress, prolonged sitting, and fatty foods combine to create an unwholesome atmosphere like no other. (And it sure is a blast!)

For those at risk for heart disease, the situation is especially injurious. It's well known that emotional stress can acutely predispose us to heart attacks. Paired with fatty foods like cheese, pizza, and buffalo wings, the stress of the Super Bowl packs a perilous wallop.

"One high-fat meal can cause your blood to be more likely to clot," Cleveland Clinic cardiologist David Frid told CNN.

Skeptical? The dangers are real. In 2009, researchers pulled death records in Los Angeles County for the two weeks following the Los Angeles Ram's Super Bowl loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which they blew a fourth-quarter lead. Comparing the data to that of control days -- from January 15 to the end of February for 1980 to 1983 and 1984 to 1988 -- the researchers found that heart-related deaths skyrocketed 15% among men and 27% among women.

"The emotional stress of a loss and/or the intensity of a game played by a sports team in a highly publicized rivalry such as the Super Bowl can trigger... cardiovascular deaths," the researchers concluded.

Los Angelenos aren't the only ones adversely affected by the big game. In a similarly designed study released last November, researchers analyzed death rates in Massachusetts eight days after the New England Patriots' heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. Circulatory deaths increased by 20% and ischemic heart disease deaths increased by 24%. Cardiovascular death rates also increased in Arizona following the Cardinals' loss to the Steelers in 2009, but the trend was not significant. Humorously, the researchers basically chalked the null result up to Cardinals fans being less ardent.

"Massachusetts and Pittsburgh show stronger support for their home teams compared with Arizona," they noted.

Right now, you may be wondering if the gluttony and exhilaration of Super Bowl Sunday is worth your life. Don't be ashamed to answer "yes."

"Watching sports can stress the heart. But that doesn't mean you need to stop," says Harvard Medical School's Thomas Lee. Just make sure to take any prescribed medications as usual, go easy on the salty food and alcohol, and don't wait till the end of the drive -- or worse, the end of the game -- if you feel any symptoms of heart attack, such as chest pressure, shortness of breath, or lightheadedness, he advises.

Most importantly, Lee urges, if you ever feel upset that your team is losing or has already lost, "close your eyes, breathe slowly, and say over and over, 'Wait till next year. Wait till next year.'"

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