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Nov. 17, 2017—Win or lose, watching hockey can make your heart pound. New research says cardiovascular stress is a very real result of watching the sport.

Researchers noted that rates of heart attacks and cardiac deaths have spiked during major soccer championships. Was this coincidence or did the effect spread to other sports as well? The researchers wanted to find out.

Studying hockey's impact

The researchers had 20 Canadian adults watch hockey in person or on TV. Participants were asked about their medical history and passion for the sport. Then their heart rates were recorded—once in a quiet environment and continuously during a game.

On average, the heart rates of the study participants increased by 92 percent during hockey games. They jumped from a median of 60 beats per minute before the game to a maximum of 114 beats during the game.

Participants who watched games on TV saw an average heart rate increase of 75 percent. But those who watched the game live had an average increase of 110 percent. In all, heart rates were about 43 percent higher when games were live instead of televised.

There were no differences in heart-rate responses between men and women. And it didn't matter how passionate folks were about the game, either. It seems that hockey gets everyone's heart pumping.

Hockey and your heart

Researchers were able to pinpoint what parts of a hockey game contributed to higher heart rates. If you think it's just the fights or a dramatic ending, think again:

Overtime was associated with 40 percent of peak heart rates.
Scoring opportunities for the supported team: 25 percent.
Scoring opportunities for the other team: 15 percent.
Shorthanded: 10 percent.
Powerplay: 5 percent.
Fight: 5 percent.
Overall, heart rates increased about the same as they would during moderate or vigorous physical exercise.

The study was limited to generally healthy adult volunteers. And it couldn't control for all possible factors related to watching a game live versus on TV.

Previous studies have shown that cardiovascular events triggered by watching sports are more common in people with coronary artery disease. An editorial accompanying the study suggested that at-risk fans should be warned about potential cardiovascular symptoms and should seek help right away if symptoms develop during a game.

The study appeared in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

If you saw someone in cardiac arrest at a game, would you know what to do? Check this out: How to do hands-only CPR.

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