Watching live sporting events can help improve our well-being and make us feel less lonely, a new study has found.
A survey of more than 7,000 adults found that those who went to watch live sports – whether amateur or professional – scored better than those who did not in terms of life satisfaction.
The large-scale study is the first ever to examine the benefits of attending sporting events.
The impact on life of feeling more “useful” is said to be comparable to the boost of getting a job.
The authors of the ground-breaking study say these incentives stem from live sports promoting “group identity” and a sense of “belonging”.
Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge believe that attending sporting events can be used as an effective public health tool to improve loneliness and well-being.
The study authors highlight the fact that although many current initiatives promote the benefits of physical participation in sports, few have previously investigated the mental health benefits associated with watching live sporting events.
Scientists from Anglia Ruskin University’s School of Psychology and Sport Science analyzed the results of the Taking Part Survey conducted between 2019 and 2020.
The survey surveyed 7,209 adults aged between 16 and 85 living in England and was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The results showed that those who attended live sporting events scored higher on two key measures of subjective well-being: life satisfaction and feeling that life felt “worthwhile.”
The magnitude of the increase in the sense of the value of life was so great that it was even comparable to the boost of finding a job.
Attending sports matches, from local cricket and football teams to Premier League fixtures, also led to lower levels of loneliness.
These observations are even more prevalent when considered alongside previous studies that have found similarly high life satisfaction scores to be associated with fewer life-limiting conditions and better physical health, successful aging, and lower rates of of mortality.
The study’s lead author, Dr Helen Keys, hopes her team’s research can help shape future public health strategies in the UK, such as offering ticket discounts to certain people.
Keys explained, “Previous research has focused on specific sports or small population samples, such as college students in the United States.
“Our study is the first study to look at the benefits of attending any sporting event for an older population, and therefore our findings may be useful in shaping future public health strategies, such as offering reduced ticket prices for certain groups.”
Just being in the crowd watching live sports improves our mental health, whether your team wins or loses, Keys says.
Keyes said it was proof of the “powerful effect” of watching live sport.
“We know from other studies that when the team you support wins, we tend to identify more strongly with our team, and this is especially true for supporters with low self-esteem,” she said.
“In psychology, we call this the ‘glow of reflected glory’ – it’s a way of ‘buckling’ ourselves to the success of the team we support.
“In our own research, we’ve shown something that perhaps touches on something else: that being in a crowd with other fans improves some aspects of well-being and reduces loneliness across the board — whether the team is winning or losing.”
“It shows a real powerful effect of being with others in support of a common goal.”
Keyes added that while more research is needed on the differences in well-being between supporting different teams and the level at which the sport you watch is played, her team’s study proved that live sports provide opportunities for social interaction available in several other settings.
She said: “The live events covered by the survey range from free amateur events, such as watching village sports teams, to Premier League football matches.
“Therefore, further research needs to be conducted to see if these benefits are more pronounced for elite sport or are more closely related to the support of a specific team.”
“However, we do know that watching live sport of any kind provides many opportunities for social interaction and this helps to build group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and increases levels of well-being.”