PSA: Don’t Have an Actual Heart Attack While Watching the Super Bowl

Remember to breathe.

Photograph by Flickr/Kevin Burkett

Football is a pretty dangerous sport. For players, concussions are common and torn ligaments pretty typical. But did you know football can be dangerous even if you’re watching the game from the safety of your couch?

According to a study published in the December 2017 issue of Canadian Journal of Cardiologyall that excitement you get from watching an intense sporting event can really give your heart a workout. In the study, 20 participants wore heart monitors while watching a hockey game — a.k.a. Canada’s football. Half the group attended the game in person, half the group watched it on television.

During the match, the viewers all experienced significantly raised heart rates. Those watching the game in person had their heart rates go up by 110 percent, while those watching on T.V. had heart rates raised by 75 percent. Both of these elevated heart rates put the equivalent of serious physical stress on the participant’s hearts.

So why is this dangerous? Well, if you’re not in good shape or have any kind of cardiac issues, then suddenly started sprinting — a.k.a. putting your heart through some serious physical stress — you could easily overdo it. Worse, you could give yourself a heart attack.

“For someone with a heart disease or an underlying cardiac condition, an elevated heart rate will put extra stress and demand on his or her heart,” says Dr. Kimberly Campbell, a cardiologist with the Cardiology Consultants of Philadelphia. “Extra stress and demand on the heart is enough to trigger a cardiac event, whether it’s a heart attack or angina.”

But, you’re thinking, no one’s ever said anything to me about a heart condition. Even if that’s the case, you should still be on the lookout for symptoms: a rapid heart rate, chest pain, palpitations, discomfort in jaws or arms, or shortness of breath and profound sweating, says Campbell. And if these are symptoms you’ve experience when walking or exercising in the past, you should probably head to the doctor to get checked out.

“These are all warning signs of cardiac events, and jumps in heart rate and blood pressure during periods of adrenaline rush can result in substantial cardiac risks in patients,” says Campbell.

If you should start feeling any of those symptoms, Campbell suggests doing deep breathing exercises. She also suggests removing yourself from the game and taking a walk — but who are we kidding? No one’s walking away from this game.

We know the Super Bowl will have everyone on the edge of their seats, but for the sake of your heart, pay attention to any signals from your body in addition to the action on screen.

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