CAMBRIDGE, England — Sports fans will certainly love the findings of this study out of the United Kingdom. There’s good reason to attend your favorite team’s games in person — and it’s not to catch some potential sports history or enjoy greasy stadium food. Scientists at Anglia Ruskin University say that watching live sporting events actually improve well-being and can reduce feelings of loneliness.
The findings come after a survey of more than 7,000 adults which shows that sports fans who attend games in person — be it professional or amateur — scored better than those who didn’t in terms of life satisfaction.
The large-scale study is the first ever to examine the benefits of attending sporting events. Overall, sports fans say that seeing games live makes life feel more “worthwhile.” In fact, these feelings are so strong that they’re comparable to the boost of getting hired for a new job!
So why do live sports make us so much happier? Study authors say the boosts derive from the events fostering “group identity” and a sense of “belonging” among fans.
Using sporting events as mental health therapy
Moving forward, researchers behind the groundbreaking study believe attending sporting events could be used as an effective public health tool for improving loneliness and well-being. Though many current initiatives promote the benefits of physical participation in sports, few have previously studied the mental health benefits linked to watching live sporting events.
The research team, from the university’s School of Psychology and Sport Science, analyzed results from the Taking Part Survey, conducted between 2019 and 2020. This survey quizzed 7,209 adults aged between 16 and 85 living in England. Results show that people who attended live sporting events scored higher in two major measurements of subjective well-being: life satisfaction and a sense of life feeling “worthwhile.”
Going to sporting matches, from local cricket and soccer teams to crucial games in the Premier League, also resulted in lower levels of loneliness.
These observations are even more prevalent when considered alongside previous studies, which found similar high life satisfaction scores to be associated with fewer life-limiting conditions and better physical health, successful aging and lower mortality rates.
Lead author Dr. Helen Keyes hopes her team’s research could help shape future public health strategies, like offering ticket price discounts to certain people. “Previous research has focused on specific sports or small population samples, such as college students in the United States,” she explains in a statement. “Ours is the first study to look at the benefits of attending any sporting event across an adult population, and therefore our findings could be useful for shaping future public health strategies, such as offering reduced ticket prices for certain groups.”
Dr Keyes added that though further studies on the differences in well-being between supporting different teams and the level the sport you watch is played at are needed, her team’s study proved that live sport provided opportunities for social interaction available in few other settings. “The live events covered by the survey ranged from free amateur events, such as watching village sports teams, right through to Premier League football matches,” she says. “Therefore, further research needs to be carried out to see if these benefits are more pronounced for elite level sport, or are more closely linked to supporting a specific team.
“However, we do know that watching live sport of all types provides many opportunities for social interaction and this helps to forge group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and boosts levels of well-being,” she concludes.
The study is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Public Health.
South West News Service writer James Gamble contributed to this report.