The state of your psychological affairs is probably not on the tip of your mind when you sit down to watch your favourite Premier League side take the pitch. That’s understandable. Football fever has a way of consuming our hearts and brains as the action unfolds.
Fortunately, you’re flexing your mental health muscle and garnering psychological (and physical) rewards by virtue of being a football fan.
That’s right. Whether you venture to Emirates Stadium for Arsenal matches on a regular basis or wager on Manchester City’s odds to bring home the Champions League title, your Premier League spectatorship carries surprising health benefits.
Builds a sense of community
Many of the benefits derived from watching sports are the result of belonging to a community. Humans are not intended to live in isolation. Ours is a social species and mingling with others in our tribe is critical to overall wellness.
Partaking in a community with a common cause, say, the success of Liverpool, lifts our spirits while fulfilling our innate need to identify with like-minded individuals.
Sports frequently offer a cross-generational appeal, too, allowing a connection for fans of all ages. That’s crucial to note because so many cultural touchpoints bound us by rigid age ranges and other demographics. For example, today’s grandparents are unlikely to play Fortnite while most teenagers aren’t interested in music from the 1960s.
But you’ll see both cohorts at Stamford Bridge, communing and rooting for Chelsea.
Similarly, Premier League fandom cuts across class lines, assembling a mighty unity from people in all income brackets.
A safe space for emotional expression
The sense of community created by healthy sports affinities may also provide fans with a safe space to express emotions. No one bats an eye when fans yell, cry or show affection towards one another in the company of a sports event crowd. You can’t say the same of most of society’s public settings.
This free expression of feelings is especially healthy in cultures where it is the norm. Whether right or wrong, British men are often known as staunch poker faces, masters of burying their emotions from the external world.
Gather such emotionally-sparse men or women in a pub or pitchside for a Premier League match and watch as the old rules fly out the window.
Healthwise, we all need the opportunity to explore and express our emotions without reprisal or judgment. And sports fandom gives us the context to do that.
A showcase of inspiration
The disadvantages of living vicariously are well-documented, but carefully watching as others achieve success has its benefits. Winning and performing well is contagious, and we become inspired when those surrounding us accomplish big things.
Watching your side play to victory sets in motion positive thinking in your mind because positivity fuels action toward desired results. We may be awestruck by the physical prowess of our favourite footballers and as a result, commit to hitting the gym or trying a healthy diet. Similarly, the adaptive decision-making of a deft coach makes us evaluate how we can strengthen our professional and personal ‘playbooks’.
Even the act of watching football carries physical benefits. Indeed, the average 150-pound female burns 100 calories per hour while seated at a live sports event. Plus, factor in walking to and around the stadium, and the calorie expenditure of vigorous workout results.
Don’t worry. Watching the match from the comfort of a barstool or couch doesn’t exclude you from burning a few calories. You can shave off at least 100 calories during a 90-minute contest or more if you stand and walk around at times.
Benefits for a long life
Who doesn’t want to live a long, fruitful life?
Regularly engaging with an active friend group is a smart way to go about it. Wellness experts state maintaining a strong social network improves the chance you’ll live longer by 50%. It doubles your odds of surviving cancer while fending off pesky illnesses like colds. You may even see a reduced chance of cardiovascular disease.
Of course, your group of Premier League cheering mates is also a lively social network. So, get together often and enjoy the health benefits!
By exploring these mental health benefits, we see how Premier League football offers more than a 90-minute bout of entertainment. It provides community, encourages emotional communication, inspires and may even help us live longer. Football is more than a sport: it’s medicine.
David Tobin did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.