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Can Watching Sports Cause a Heart Attack?

Medically reviewed by Nassir Azimi, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 16, 2023

The idea that emotions can have a triggering effect on the heart is not a new one. We have all felt our heart race when watching a scary movie or felt a pounding in our chest when getting ready to speak in public. Research has looked into whether emotions do play a role in triggering myocardial infarction (or heart attack). Psychological and emotional distress from natural disasters or war have clear connections to an increased risk of cardiac events, but research is now discovering links between increased heart attack risks and sporting events.


There is indeed a strong link between the heart and the mind.  Obviously the adrenergic system is stimulated during mental stress and this could raise the heart rate and sometimes even cause arrhythmias that might lead to a cardiac arrest or other times a heart attack. Takosubo cardiomyopathy (a.k.a. Broken heart syndrome)  is a different condition where during intense mental stress the patient suffers from all the signs and symptoms of a heart attack with EKG and blood test evidence of heart attack without a culprit lesion (clot) normally seen in heart attacks.


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Risk Factors

In a 2009 study, researchers wanted to find out if the number of heart attacks increased when a local football team was in the Super Bowl, and if the win or loss of the game also played a role. They studied the data about the number of cardiac events in a 2-week period in Los Angeles County after the 1980 Super Bowl when the LA Rams played and lost and also after the 1984 Super Bowl when the LA Raiders played and won. As a control, they reviewed data for deaths from cardiac events for the same 2-week period in the years 1980-1983 and 1984-1988. Researchers found that the death rate from cardiac-related illnesses was higher during the period around the Super Bowl when the local team lost in 1980 than when they won in 1984.


In 2017, researchers studied the heart rates of spectators at both live and televised hockey events. Using portable Holter monitors, they were able to track the heart rates of 20 participants (7 women and 13 men whose ages ranged from 36-56). Half of the participants attended the live games, and half watched the televised game at home. The results showed that the heart rate more than doubled at a live event which is equal to “vigorous physical stress,” and the  heart rate while watching a televised game went up to the level of “moderate physical stress.” The heart rates went up the most during an overtime period or when there was a scoring opportunity for either team.


However, these studies also point out that life is full of triggers, many of which are out of our control. An increased heart rate is not necessarily a trigger for a heart attack, but if you have other risk factors, it might be a concern. Other risk factors include smoking, being overweight, having high blood pressure or high cholesterol, and prediabetes. Recognizing that there is already an increased risk of a cardiac event due to other risk factors helps a person pay closer attention to any symptoms that might present.


Being aware of the potential of triggering a cardiac event can help people work to reduce their risk. For example, other studies show the importance of taking prescribed medications to ensure adequate blood flow to the heart. Diet and exercise also play a role in reducing risk. Sports arenas can do their part by making defibrillators widely available and having trained staff present. Doctorpedia supports you as you work to reduce your risk of heart attack. Talk to your doctor today!


Written by Nan Kuhlman



  • Chi, J. S., & Kloner, R. A. (2003). Stress and myocardial infarction. Heart (British Cardiac Society), 89(5), 475–476. doi:10.1136/heart.89.5.475
  • Khairy, L.T., Barin, R., Demonière, F., Villemaire, C., Billo, M.J., Tardif, J.C., …Khairy, P. (2017). Heart rate response in spectators of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 33(12), 1633-1638. Retrieved from
  • Kloner, R.A., McDonald, S., Leekaa, Poole, W.K. (2009). Comparison of total and cardiovascular death rates in the same city during a losing versus winning Super Bowl championship. The American Journal of Cardiology, 103(12), 1647-1650. Retrieved from
  • Waters, D.D., & Nattel, S. (2017). Taking hockey to heart: Potential coronary risks of watching exciting games. The American Journal of Cardiology, 33(12), 1517-1519. Retrieved from

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