What are the Mental Health Benefits of Being a Sports Fan?

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
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It’s May 2019 and a remarkable thing has happened in our fair city of Toronto, the province of Ontario and our great country of Canada in general:

The Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA championships!!

Full disclosure: I’m fully a “band-wagoner” fan when it comes to basketball and the Raptors. Sure, I was around and excited when Toronto got our very own basketball team 24 years ago. Even went to some games back then, but my sports beating heart undoubtedly belongs to baseball and our embattled Toronto Blue Jays.

That said though, I am fortunate to live downtown and experienced the pure joy and excitement of the Raptors winning over the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the championships.

It reminded me of the time that the Toronto Blue Jays won back to back championships in the 90’s and my parents and I made our way downtown at the time to walk down Yonge Street. We cheered and gave everyone we passed by high fives along the way. It was an incredible feeling to be a part of this city- and nation-wide celebration.

I was in my teens then and I was a baseball fan before the Jays won the championships. But that experience of belonging and happiness of celebrating along with everyone cemented my commitment to being a Jays fan, it seems, for life!

Being a fan Jays fan has helped me feel like a part of a community of baseball lovers and also, specifically those who love the Toronto Blue Jays.

It’s allowed me to have the ability to make instant connections with others, gives me a break from working when I might take a few minutes to see what’s going on in the baseball world and also the ‘inside baseball’ stuff that’s helped me conceptualize what it takes to being not only a professional athlete, but how the business of baseball appears to be run.

So with the Raptors stirring up the pride and loyalties of many of us here in Toronto, I thought it would be fun to discuss how it can be helpful for mental health to be a dedicated sports fan.

As we know, participating in playing sports can be supportive of mental health and overall wellness… 

But How About the Benefits of Being a Sports Fan?

Being a sports fan can be good for social, emotional and psychological health, even though there can also be a stereotype that sports fans can overindulge in beer, fast food items and snacks. 

While this stereotype can be true of some fans, there are also other fans who are also actively involved in physical and social activities because of their dedication to sports, playing and following as fans.

Four Benefits of Being a Sports Fan

1 – Studies have shown that fans who actively support a local team tend to be socially engaged and have higher self-esteem.  There is a built-in connection with others locally.

2 – Other studies have shown that being an avid sports fan can improve language skills, since fans often have conversations and discussions about sports — whether expressing opinions or translating what they witnessed into their own words.  It’s a much more detailed and conversational discussion than talking about the weather.

3 – A team’s wins and losses can affect energy, mood and hormone levels, such as dopamine and testosterone. 

4 – As we talked about habits in a previous post, sports teaches us that success comes as a result of continued and dedicated repetitions.

Within sports are inherent lessons about the ups and downs, fairness, playing by the rules, the human stories of disasters and triumphs, that’s also true of each of our life experiences, too.

It’s About Balance – Three Warnings of Being Too Invested as a Fan

But like anything else, it’s possible for anyone to be too invested in any sports or sports teams to the point that individuals may be using them as too much of a distraction or have negative impacts in other areas of their lives.

1 – Be aware that it has been reported that sports fans can get so emotionally involved in intense competitive situations which can then trigger cardiac issues, like a heart attack and also have an impact on mood.

2 – There can also be issues of being so involved as a fan, that an excessive amount of time can be spent on following sports to the detriment of relationships, and personal and professional responsibilities.

3 – Overindulgence in alcohol and less healthy foods, which can lead to less than ideal overall health, which will also impact mental health and mood.

Sports, at its best, are a reflection of life but with specific constraints, rules and stats, so that it’s often a relatable escape. As always, the key is to find the right balance.

In my case, as I’m just jumping in right now as the Raptors are about to enter into their first championship in franchise history, I’ll be throwing on my new Raps gear and cheering them on with the rest of super fans here in Toronto. Go Raps!!

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