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Researchers monitored the heart rates of healthy fans at a Montreal Canadians hockey game. According to the study, pulse rates increased by 75 percent when watching the game on TV as compared to 110 percent when viewing in person.
Exercise, hockey games, and other activities that increase heart rate all have a common denominator—emotional stressors. In response to such stimulation, your pulse quickens to ensure you can pump enough oxygenated blood and nutrients to your muscles to keep you going, explains Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute. In the study, participants’ heart rates peaked most frequently when each team tried to take a shot on goal. Berenc relates this to passionately charging up a hill at the end of a run, or intensely finishing the last set of kettlebell swings when lifting. And watching any game where you're emotionally invested in the outcome would likely elicit the same results, he adds.
For those who have or who are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease, this increase in stress to the heart can be damaging to overall health. However, "if you are healthy or routinely engaged in activities like sports that get your heart rate elevated, you likely have a bit of protection," explains Berenc. "The stress on the heart isn't new and the body knows how to handle it."
If you want to keep your heart rate from spiking during a sporting event—which, while fine for healthy athletes, is also important in controlling stress levels—Berenc advises hydrating well (dehydration can further increase heart rate) and practicing mindful breathing.