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Could Watching the Super Bowl Give You a Heart Attack?

If you’re a New Yorker and a football fan, you’re probably pretty disappointed that the Jets didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this year.  But perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise—a new study published in Clinical Cardiology earlier this week suggests that the stress of watching your team lose the Super Bowl might just kill you!

As any cardiologist can tell you, there are many risk factors that contribute to heart disease.  These factors can be classified in one of two ways—chronic risk factors and acute risk factors.  Chronic risk factors are those which build up over time, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and smoking.  Acute risk factors, on the other hand, generally involve some sort of emotional or physical stress which can trigger a cardiac event, like getting dumped, being chased by a bear, or—apparently—watching your favorite team lose the Super Bowl.

The study looked at cardiac mortality rates in Los Angeles County during and immediately following the two Super Bowl games in which an L.A. team has played.  The first of these was in 1980, when the Los Angeles Rams played the Pittsburgh Steelers in an extremely intense Super Bowl game.  After seven lead changes, the Rams finally lost the lead in the 4th quarter, ultimately losing the game.  In 1984, Los Angeles went to the Super Bowl again—this time as the Raiders—playing against the Washington Redskins.   The Raiders had the lead for the entire time and ultimately won the game.

The results of the study showed an increase in cardiac deaths across the board for citizens of Los Angeles County immediately following the 1980 Super Bowl.  Compared to control data measuring all cardiac deaths between January 1980 and February 1983, the amount of cardiac deaths increased by a whopping 20.6% in the period of time covering the day of the 1980 Super Bowl and the 14 days following!

By contrast, the 1984 Super Bowl, in which Los Angeles won, triggered no such reaction.  Interestingly, there was actually a slight reduction in cardiac deaths after the Los Angeles Raiders took the Super Bowl in 1984!

So what does this mean for sports fans?  Should we avoid watching football, for the sake of our health?  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a game of football, or even getting emotionally invested in the game—after all, yelling at the ref and trash-talking the opposing team through the TV half the fun!  But it’s important to ensure you don’t get too carried away, especially if you’re older or prone to heart problems.  Try to be aware of your stress level during games, and take a step back when you realize you’re getting worked up.  Head to another room and take a few deep breaths.  Go for a walk during commercial breaks.  Keep a cardiologist on hand to monitor your blood pressure if you have to.  After all, watching your team lose the big game may be heartbreaking—but it shouldn’t cost you your life!

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