Study: Devoted football fans experience dangerous levels of stress

By Hillary Orinde: Saturday, January 25th 2020 at 19:34 GMT +3 | Football

Gor Mahia fans at a past match. Research links hardcore fans to high-stress levels that contribute to violence among other risks. [File, Standard]

You probably may feel you did not need research to know this.

But staunch supporters of football experience such intense levels of stress while watching their teams play that they could be at risk of a heart attack, a new study suggests.

The research by the University of Oxford published in the journal Stress and Health found that the levels of the hormone cortisol shot up to dangerous levels during matches.

Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, is secreted by the adrenal gland and helps control blood sugar levels. It has a controlling effect on salt and water balance thereby levelling blood pressure.

The Oxford researchers say that key moments in a match could trigger surges in cortisol hormone.

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And woe unto you if you are a fan of a struggling team as you risk prolonged exposure, which is linked to immune system damage.

“Too much cortisol over time can result in a suppressed immune system (more coughs and colds and even allergies), weight gain, and heightened blood pressure with a significant risk of heart disease,” the study notes.

The findings come from an analysis of the saliva from 41 Brazilian fans during their historic semi-final loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup.

Brazil fans after their harrowing defeat to Germany in 2014.

Lead researcher Dr Martha Newson said: “Cortisol rocketed during live games for the fans who were highly fused to the team. It was particularly high during games where their team lost”.

Dr Newson notes that there were no differences in the hormone concentrations between men and women, despite the preconception that men tend to be more bonded to their football teams.

“Women were in fact found to be slightly more bonded to their national team than the men,” she said.

The research describes fans who are highly bonded to their teams as having unique psycho-physiological profiles. It says this can be seen in antics such as ritualised chanting and singing through to violence.

The study built on a previous one which showed an increase in heart attacks among fans on important match days.

The researchers say the findings may help clubs be better equipped at identifying which fans are most at risk of heart attacks.

“Clubs may be able to offer heart screenings or other health measures to highly committed fans who are at the greatest risk of experiencing increased stress during the game,” lead research Dr Martha said.

She added that it could also be relevant to improving crowd management strategies.

“Strategies that aim to reduce stress hormones following particularly intense matches could help reduce incidents of hooliganism and violence.”

The writer is an Arsenal fan.


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