The healthy flip side of being a sports fan

Alana, from left, Janina, Ron and Aaron Samaco pose at an Angels spring training game in 2010.

Story highlights

  • Stereotype that sports fans are overweight, beer-drinking couch potatoes is inaccurate, says author
  • Being a sports fan can benefit emotional, psychological and social health, scientists say
  • Fans who identify with a local team have higher self-esteem, are less lonely, say experts
  • Study: Men's testosterone levels increased when they saw their team win
Brad Hampson, a 41-year-old pharmacist who lives in Chicago, is not the kind of sports fan who loses his temper when his team gets beaten. But the outcome of a game definitely can affect his mood.
Watching the Nationals beat the Cubs on opening day at Wrigley Field was "heartbreaking" for Hampson, a lifelong Cubs fan.
"I'm upset when they lose and happy when they win," said Hampson, who has traveled to almost every current major ballpark in the United States. Hampson loves all sports, but says baseball is his favorite.
"It's a pleasant diversion -- at least when they are winning."
Researchers have long been interested in studying the characteristics, habits and overall health of sports fans. They've studied alcohol consumption, testosterone levels, even cardiac arrest rates after a Super Bowl game.
It's actually not all bad. Indeed, the stereotype that sports fans are overweight, beer-drinking couch potatoes is inaccurate, said Daniel L. Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University in Kentucky and the author of "Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators."
"Sports fans are quite active physically, politically and socially," he said.
Scientists have found that being a sports fan can be good for your emotional, psychological and social health.
Fans who identify with a local team have higher self-esteem, are less lonely and are no more aggressive as a group than nonsports fans, according to Wann.
"Pretty much any way you look at it, the more you identify with a local team, the more psychologically healthy you tend to be," said Wann, who has studied sports fans for 25 years. "You have a built-in connection to others in your environment. If you live in San Francisco and you are a Giants fan, it's pretty easy to be connected to others."
Sian Beilock, associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago, found another benefit of being a sports fan. She found that playing or watching a sport improves language skills when it comes to discussing that sport.
Beilock studied hockey players, fans and people who had never seen or played the sport.
What she found was the region of the brain usually associated with planning and controlling actions is activated when fans and players listen to conversations about their sport. Watching could be a lot closer to actually doing than previously thought, she said.
"What I think our research suggests is a strong connection between the mind and the body," Beilock said. "When we are sitting on the couch watching a football game or a hockey game, our brain is actually playing the game itself in a way."
Researchers at the University of Utah found that men's testosterone levels increased when they saw their team win -- whether they were watching the game in person or on television. Higher testosterone levels have been linked to i