Study of Leeds United fans finds victories reduce anxiety and blood pressure of fans

Leeds United against Salford.
Leeds United against Salford.
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A study of Leeds United fans found that winning matches was found to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety, whereas losing a match raised it.

To find out the true effects of what watching football does to the body, BetVictor commissioned human biology and psychology researchers from the University of Leeds to follow Leeds United football fans across three key games in their 2019 promotion race.

The experts analysed a total of 25 Leeds United fans of ages ranging from 20 - 62 years old (average age – 22 years old) during matches against Brentford and the play-offs against Derby.

Participants for Match 1 were analysed in outside of a stadium environment, whereas participants for Matches 2 & 3 were analysed whilst watching the game live at each stadium.

Blood pressure was taken a couple of days before each match to give a base rate, immediately before the match, at half time and then immediately following the final whistle.

Participants were also served a mood survey and interviewed after each match to form part of our psychological analysis.

Leeds United fans saw a clearly elevated heartrate throughout the duration of the games, both when viewed in a control setting and in a stadium environment.

On average, participants’ heart rates increased 17% vs. base rate when they were watching the game, the study found.

Overall heartrate increased to as much as 130 BPM for some participants throughout the course of the game (64% up on the average base rate).

This is known as “positive stress” and is a cardiovascular workout akin to a 90-minute brisk walk.

Winning a match was found to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety, whereas losing a match raised it.

Psychologically, it was clear that games had a “significant” impact on fans mood, the study found.

Researchers noticed a clear period of low mood that extended for days following a loss, however the euphoria experienced after a win was much more fleeting, lasting only around 24 hours.

Dr Andrea Utley - Reader in Motor Control and Development, said: "It was clear that fans were passionate about the game with heart rate elevated during the match to a similar level to that when going for a brisk walk (generally 20% higher than resting heart rate).

"A goal for either team caused a brief increase in heart rate of an average of 20bpm from the match average.

"Fans also experienced anxiety pre, during and post the game. A win resulted in a dip in blood pressure and euphoria with an increase in positive mood and excitement.

"A loss however resulted in an increase in anxiety, demonstrated by an elevation in post-match blood pressure and a slump in mood positivity.

"Ultimately supporting your team at a football match gives you a moderate cardiovascular workout and depending on the result of the match a psychological boost or slump."

A psychologist for BetVictor said: "The impact on supporters of in terms of mood was significant. Supporters reported enhanced mood and positivity after watching a victory.

"Ultimately, the enjoyment of viewing a sporting event is a function of the outcome of the game.

"However the negativity and depression after the team had lost was more long term. It is clear that a negative mood state occurs after a loss that can remain for days after the defeat.

"The impact that this has on the individual and those around them can be massive resulting in low mood, depression and in some case violent behaviour."