Saturday, February 4, 2012

Heart-Pounding Super Bowl

I am not much of a football fan, but even those of us who care nothing about the sport the rest of the year muster up the enthusiasm to care a little on Super Bowl Sunday (or to at least pretend). If nothing else, a Super Bowl party guarantees time with friends and a schmorgishborg of delicious snacks.

For those who have been following the sport all year, undoubtedly the game will be full of heart-pounding action on the field and, as it turns out, in their own homes. Today, while I was thinking about the big game, I recalled reading an article in 2011 saying that heart attacks are more likely around the time of the hoopla. Heart-pounding action indeed!

Per the usual, I did a little Google search, and last year's article was right at my fingertips! (I was glad to confirm I didn't make up something that crazy in my head.)

Apparently, one study suggests that heart attacks may be more prevalent in the weeks following the Super Bowl, namely in the areas where people supported the losing team. The research, which was published in the journal Clinical Cardiology, examined heart-related death rates in Los Angeles following two Super Bowls, one where L.A. won and one where they lost, in comparison to the same weeks other years.

In 1980, when the Los Angeles Rams were defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers, heart attacks in L.A. were 15% higher for men and 27% higher for women in the two weeks following the game compared to the same weeks in 1981 - 1983. In 1984, on the other hand, when the L.A. Rams beat the Washington Redskins to win the Super Bowl, the L.A. cardiac death rate did not increase in the weeks following.

Due to a variety of design factors in the study, as well as the fact that it only covered one city for two Super Bowls, it does not conclusively prove that the Super Bowl loss caused the upshoot in heart related deaths. Regardless, the findings were pretty drastic in the difference from one year to the next

So why would this happen?

Well, assuming that the connection is true, researchers have a few theories. To begin with, it is important to note that those affected were already at high risk for a heart attack before the game, so the changes experienced as a result of the game would have been one contributing factor among many health issues. My first thought was that people died of boredom, but no one else seems to be espousing that view. One more popular theory suggests that individuals' emotional attachments to the team triggered a major stress response when the team lost in 1980. Others have suggested that it was not the sadness over the loss, but rather the tense game itself, that was the difference between the two Super Bowls. The 1980 game was a much closer nail-biter, with many ups and downs, compared to the 1984 game. The range of emotions associated with the 1980 game could have caused people's hearts to experience greater strain. Another additional factor might have been the copious amounts of beer and fatty snacks typically consumed around the game, although one would assume those were more or less the same from 1980 to 1984.

I have no idea if this cardiac connection will be supported by further research. As a math major, I am inclined to be a skeptic of such simplistic statistical studies until further proof is provided. But hey, this is the one interesting link that immediately came to mind between health and the Super Bowl, so I felt compelled to share. Ultimately, all I can say is, be careful while watching football!

Have fun! Go Giants!

Check out some more detailed articles on the subject here:

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