Health benefits of watching sport confirmed

Crowd cheers at sporting event. | Newsreel
A new study has found that watching sport improves well-being and creates a sense of belonging. | Photo: Dmytro Aksonov (iStock)

It is official. Watching sport is good for you.

A team of researchers at Waseda University in Japan conducted a series of studies on the potential well-being impacts from being a sport spectator.

The studies overwhelming concluded that watching sports, particularly at large gatherings, went beyond entertainment – it also fostered a sense of community and belonging.

“This sense of connection not only makes individuals feel good but also benefits society by improving health, enhancing productivity, and reducing crime,” the researchers said.

“Despite its recognized positive effects, limited evidence exists on the link between watching sports and well-being.”

The researchers said the most ground-breaking findings came from using neuroimaging techniques to study alterations in brain activity following sports viewing.

“Utilizing multimodal MRI neuroimaging measurement procedures, the brain activity of 14 able-bodied Japanese participants was analysed while they watched sports clips,” the research report said.

“The results of this investigation illuminated that sports viewing triggered activation in the brain’s reward circuits, indicative of feelings of happiness or pleasure.”

As well, individuals who reported watching sport more frequently exhibited greater “gray matter volume” in regions associated with reward circuits.

This suggested that regular sports viewing might gradually induce changes in brain structures.

As well as the neuroimaging, the researchers reviewed publicly-available data on the influence of watching sports on 20,000 Japanese residents.

They also conducted an online survey with 208 participants investigating whether the connection between sports viewing and well-being varied depending on the type of sport observed.

“The experiment exposed them to various sports videos, assessing their well-being both before and after viewing,” the report said. “

“The findings underscored that widely embraced sports, like baseball, exerted a more significant impact on enhancing well-being compared to less popular sports, such as golf.”