Watching the World Cup could improve your health

The World Cup is in full swing and countries are competing on the soccer field for the championship and of course to brag about it. This World Cup was anything but predictable. Fans were in turmoil after Saudi Arabia defeated powerful Argentina – the kingdom celebrated a national day the following day to celebrate the victory – while German fans were in disbelief after the defeat by Japan. And in a major upset, Mexico’s side were eliminated from the group stage, a first since 1978.

Whether you’re a football fan or not, it’s hard to deny how exciting it is to see your home country move closer to the gold. And while not everyone can travel thousands of miles to the games taking place in Qatar this year, psychologists say there are good reasons to brace for a game. PopSci asked experts about the top five health benefits of supporting a team, even if you’re just sitting on the couch.

[Related: All the ways you can tune in to the 2022 Soccer World Cup]

You feel less lonely

Humans are by nature social beings. This makes the world’s most popular sport a great opportunity to connect with others and find community. Carrie Wyland, a social psychologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, says there are two main reasons for this. The first reason is that cheering on a team makes you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. “Cheering for our favorite teams gives us a sense of identity,” she explains. This social identity is built upon the small groups you have formed or associated with throughout your life. When you connect deeply with a group, your personal self shifts into a larger whole and creates a deeper sense of connectedness with others, Wyland explains.

The second reason is collective joy. Whether you’re watching with family or going to a bar alone, your body experiences powerful arousal emotions like happiness and excitement when you witness an event like your team’s goal. “When we experience those positive feelings and share them with other people who are also watching the game, we can actually amplify those emotions and have a greater emotional experience.”

And that social bond is felt through ups and downs—triumph and defeat. If your team loses, you might feel down for a few days, but there’s an upside too. According to Wyland, losing a game is still a collective experience and can continue to build stronger bonds with others — whether in person, through a group chat, or even on social media — as you mourn the loss together and figure out what went wrong.

You have higher self-esteem

A 2019 study in the journal communication and sports found that fans of winning sports teams reported higher self-esteem two days after the game. While more research is needed to confirm this link, Wyland says the boost in self-esteem after watching a game may stem from a psychological concept called “sunbathing in reflected fame.” It’s when you relate someone else’s victories to your own because you are closely connected to that group. This is also reflected in fans who are happy when their favorite musician wins a Grammy, or supporters of a political party when their preferred candidate is elected. In this case, a fan’s social identity in football can make them feel part of the team. So when fans cheer or perform rituals like wearing “lucky socks,” they feel like their support helped the team win.

They increase your life expectancy

There is some indirect evidence that cheering might help extend your lifespan. But that depends on how you cheer. Are you passively glued to the couch, watching, or physically getting up to jump and off, or waving your hands as you cheer? Though it’s not a true physical workout, Wyland says small movements and gestures are important because they get your body moving.

[Related: How to work out for your mental health]

Socializing also has a positive effect on longevity. Social connections — forming friendships or feeling part of a community through exercise — have long been associated with good physical and mental health. Watching sports regularly has even been linked to fewer depressive symptoms, which has previously been linked to a 10 to 12 year shorter lifespan in older adults. When you have this social support, there is evidence of a reduced risk of early death.

They relieve stress

Getting caught up in the action of a game can help immerse yourself in the moment, especially during times of celebration, such as when Christian Pulisic of the US team scored his final goal against Iran to propel the team into the K. -o.-round to lead.

“Exercise is a celebration of life and you’re fully present — away from past regrets or future fears,” said Eric Zillmer, neuropsychologist and former director of athletics at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Watching and celebrating sports teams provides a temporary escape from current reality. Zillmer says a game like soccer has rules and boundaries that can be therapeutic and easy to digest for people dealing with life’s unpredictability. Sport can also make people return to a simpler view of life: a triumphant comeback by the underdogs or that fairytale moment when a superstar carries his team to the finals.

“We know from studies on mindfulness and yoga that living in the present is very beneficial for your health,” says Zillmer. “Exercise makes us feel alive and can be a catalyst to find things that we hope to find within ourselves.” Exercise is about overcoming obstacles, he says; If these hitting challenges exist in sports, they might exist in real life too.

[Related: The complex physics behind bending it like a World Cup player]

You are more motivated to exercise

Wyland says seeing players dash across the field throwing soccer balls in the air could inspire kids to get out there and play the sport too. Children can be full of energy after an exciting game and play outside, emulating their favorite players like Argentinian Lionel Messi or Frenchman Kylian Mbappé.

Adults can join in the action too, channeling their excitement from watching the World Cup into their next workout. Zillmer advises associating high probability behaviors (activities you like or enjoy doing) with low probability behaviors (things you don’t want to do and may actively avoid). So if you’ve wanted to exercise but can’t find the motivation to do so, think of your next session as a means of reward. For example, if there is a good chance you are watching the USA vs Netherlands game (a high probability behavior), then force yourself into a low probability behavior, such as: B. A walk around the block to “deserve it.”

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