Zealous football fans are at risk of experiencing dangerous levels of the “fight or flight” hormone cortisol, commonly associated with stress, a study has found.
Researchers at the University of Oxford have verified a scientific link between fans’ intense group bonding with their team and levels of cortisol while they watch football.
Fans who are more casual supporters also experience stress, but not so extremely, according to the study published in the journal Stress and Health.
“Fans who are strongly fused with their team – that is, have a strong sense of being ‘one’ with their team – experience the greatest physiological stress response when watching a match,” said Martha Newson, researcher at the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, University of Oxford.
The study was conducted with Brazilian spectators during the 2014 World Cup.
The fans’ saliva was collected before, during and after matches, including Brazil’s historic 7-1 semi-final loss to Germany.
Newson said cortisol rocketed during live games for the fans who were highly fused to the team and that it was particularly high during games where their team lost.
‘Clubs may be able to offer heart screeningsDr Martha Newson
or other health measures to highly committed fans’
Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion
University of Oxford
There were no differences in cortisol concentrations between men and women, despite preconceptions that men tend to be more bonded to their football teams.
Although cortisol is essential to responding to life’s daily stresses, too much cortisol over time can result in a supressed immune system, weight gain and heightened blood pressure with a significant risk of heart disease.
Previous research has established an increase in heart attacks among fans on important match days, at both the regional and national level.
Newson suggested clubs offer heart screenings or other health measures to highly committed fans who are at the greatest risk of experiencing increased stress during the game.