Playing it safe: Tips to stay in the heart safety zone during the big game

Group of men cheering on a football game

Millions of football fans will be gathering to cheer on their favorite team during Sunday’s big game. And with the excitement around the highly anticipated sporting event comes some advice about staying heart safe as a spectator.

Dr. Satyajit Reddy, a Mayo Clinic sports cardiologist, says that while those on the field certainly have some risk from a medical perspective, some studies indicate that fans watching the big game may have an increased risk of heart emergencies.

“The studies suggest that there is an increased incidence of cardiac events, namely, arrhythmias, heart failure and heart attacks, during these major sporting events, especially in sports like soccer and American football. And even more interesting is that these rates of cardiac events go up the more dramatic the game is,” says Dr. Reddy.

Watch: Dr. Satyajit Reddy talk about heart safety during sporting events

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Satyajit Reddy are available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: “Mayo Clinic News Network.” Name super/CG: Satyajit Reddy, M.D./Cardiovascular Medicine/Mayo Clinic.

For instance, the closer the game is in the final moments, the incidence of cardiac events increase.

Those at most risk for experiencing a cardiac event during the game are people who have the traditional risk factors for heart disease or a preexisting history of heart disease.

“They have risk factors for heart disease — things like high blood pressure, diabetes or pre-diabetes, high cholesterol — maybe they don’t see a primary physician regularly,” he says.

A sports watch party can be a celebration of excess and a combination of too much alcohol, tobacco, and salty, greasy foods. Combined with emotional stress, these factors can lead to condition that is also seen around the holidays known as holiday heart — where an irregular heartbeat, known as atrial fibrillation, can arise.

Here are three tips to enjoy the big game and stay heart-healthy:

  • Avoid tobacco use.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Eat healthfully.

“There are salty, greasy and sugary foods, which can certainly add up over three hours. And if you have high blood pressure, if you have these cardiac risk factors, that can overwhelm your heart and cause cardiac issues,” says Dr. Reddy.

Football game snacks, chicken wings, chips, pretzels,
Watch your game day snack intake.

“If you’re watching the game, and you notice yourself getting anxious or stressed out, having a relaxation technique or ways to manage your anxiety or stress is important,” he says. “Also, with the prevalence of sports betting nowadays, to avoid betting because that just adds another layer of stress.”

Dr. Reddy says to celebrate in good health and practice heart safety.

“Enjoy the game, but do it responsibly,” he adds.

If you or someone you are with is experiencing symptoms of a cardiac event, call 911 immediately.

Common symptoms may include:

  • Chest pain that may feel like pressure, tightness, pain, squeezing or aching.
  • Pain or discomfort that spreads to the shoulder, arm, back, neck, jaw, teeth or sometimes the upper belly.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.

Symptoms of a heart attack may be different for men and women. Women may have atypical symptoms, such as brief or sharp pain felt in the neck, arm or back.

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