For the rest of the world, soccer (football, excuse me) is a big deal. A really big deal. So big that they actually have heart attacks about it. Seriously. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at just how many heart attacks occurred in Germany during the World Cup they hosted in 2006. What they found might shock you. During the World Cup, for both men and women, “the incidence of cardiac emergencies was 2.66 times that during the control period.” The authors conclude that watching a soccer game actually doubles your risk of a heart attack.
Now, it doesn’t matter necessarily whether your team wins or loses, the authors say. A stressful win could trigger a heart attack just as much as a stressful loss. An earlier study showed that when a national team loses a penalty shoot-out, the number of heart attacks goes up. And this study shows that even when they win, that number goes up.
Quartz writes about another curious trend in the data:
Interestingly, the only match that didn’t cause a spike in heart attacks was the third-place game against Portugal, confirming that once a team has been knocked out of contention for the World Cup title, nothing really matters. That semifinal loss to Italy, a team that has long tormented Germany and went on to win the tournament, left Deutschland quite literally with its hearts broken.
The study was also able to break down the risks and rates to different parts of the game. The authors write:
Averaged over all seven games involving Germany, the incidence of events increased during the several hours before the match, the highest incidence was observed during the 2 hours after the start of the match, and the incidence remained increased for several hours after the end of the match.
So it really is the stress of watching game play that can push people’s hearts over the edge from die-hard to defibrillated.
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