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Expert Says Watching the World Cup Is Good for Our Health

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A study of 2,000 sports fans from the charitable social enterprise Better has investigated the mental health benefits of being part of a community and watching sports such as the upcoming football World Cup, with one in two saying watching sports is good for their mental health (51% of men and 46% of women). 

As ‘mental health‘ benches have been placed around the venues at the upcoming World Cup to encourage fans to sit down and talk to help their well-being, the survey results imply this should be a great success. Those watching back home can reap the benefits of watching the games to help ease symptoms of Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

For sports fans across the UK who will be watching this winter, 1 in 2 of all sports fans said it helps them socialise more with friends and family, over a third (35%) said it makes them feel part of a community, and 33% said it inspires them to be more active.

But where will people watch the World Cup? 72% of UK sports fans said they generally watch from the comfort of their sofa, but they also said several other interesting places:

  • 25% said they’ve watched from the bed.
  • 7% have watched on their commute.
  • 19% watched while exercising in the gym.
  • 17% said they have watched in the office.
  • 38% said they enjoy watching it in the pub.

Dr Josephine Perry, the sports psychologist at Performance in Mind, spoke to Better about the results: “Sport and exercise are brilliant for physical, mental and cognitive health. If it was a pill it would make billions. As well as the physical benefits the exercise we get through sport gives us structure, purpose, energy and motivation.”

“It is also effective at altering how we process and respond to our emotions, reducing how much we overthink and building up an emotional resilience to stress. This help reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, makes us behave differently, boosts our self-esteem and means we reduce any feelings of loneliness by becoming more social.”

“Results from sporting professionals impact their mood, which can transfer onto the fans. It is hard to predict an athlete’s response to a result: sometimes, they can lose but be proud of the effort or skills they utilised. Other times they may do well but realise that was due to others’ mess ups rather than their excellence. Fans, however, are more likely to have the obvious response to a win or a loss as they don’t have the wider insight or perspective.”

“This transfers among fans quickly as when we are surrounded by others we can experience ‘emotional contagion’ which is where the feelings of one person transfer over to another person. It begins as an unconscious mimicry (where we automatically copy another’s physical cues) and this then feeds back into our emotions. We share these emotions and fall into sync with others around us. When surrounded by people, this can spread very quickly – so if you are watching sport live or in a pub, the good results will feel extra positive, and the bad ones awful.”

Sport and exercise are brilliant for physical, mental and cognitive health. If it was a pill, it would make billions! As well as the physical benefits, the exercise we get through sports gives us structure, purpose, energy and motivation. It is also effective at altering how we process and respond to our emotions, reducing how much we overthink and building emotional resilience to stress. This help reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, makes us behave differently, boosts our self-esteem and means we reduce any feelings of loneliness by becoming more social.”

“When we get involved in sport, competing ourselves, coaching, taking children along to competitions or joining supporters groups, our identity starts to shape itself around that sport. This means we tend to think with this sporting identity, which can infiltrate how we make decisions and live our lives. If we only watch sports as a fan, it is unlikely to be enough to influence our health and well-being – but getting involved can give us the motivation we need to stay fit and healthy so we can do well in it and feel that amazing sense of progression.”

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

According to the NHS, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as winter depression because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the winter.

Some people with SAD may have symptoms during the summer and feel better during the winter. Symptoms of SAD can include:

  • a persistent low mood
  • a loss of pleasure or interest in everyday activities
  • irritability
  • feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness
  • feeling lethargic (lacking in energy) and sleepy during the day
  • sleeping for longer than normal and finding it hard to get up in the morning
  • craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decreased sex drive

For some people, these symptoms can be severe and significantly impact their day-to-day activities. You should consider seeing the GP if you think you might have SAD and you’re struggling to cope.

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