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Peanuts, Cracker Jack, and… Well-Being? The Surprising Reason You May Want To Start Attending Live Sports

Cheering crowd of sports fans with arms raised in air standing in stadium to demonstrate mental health benefits of watching live sports

Photo: Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

Watching sports has, historically, never been my thing. I hate that somebody has to lose, and at the same time, the idea of “winning” isn’t compelling enough to hold my attention.

But something changed, or clicked, rather, the first time I went to a baseball game—go Giants!—with friends in college. The cheers, the jeers, the chit-chat with the people sitting around me was fun. As we put our arms around each other, swayed, and belted out the lyrics to Journey’s When the Lights Go Down in the City, I felt warm and fuzzy feelings for my adopted city, and the notion that maybe I might like watching sports dawned on me.

Since then, I’ve taken in baseball, basketball, and football games, watched golf and tennis and volleyball tournaments, and even traveled to Oregon for a track meet. Watching sports on TV is still not really my jam (with the exception of golf—the interpersonal drama just can’t be beat!), but I’ve found that a few hours in a stadium among a buzzing crowd of people is one heck of a good way to spend my free time.

And it turns out, science agrees. A new study of over 7,200 people published in Frontiers in Public Health has found that watching live sports increases feelings of well-being. Specifically, study subjects reported that attending live sporting events came with increased life satisfaction, a greater sense of life being worthwhile, and reduced loneliness. Those are some serious mental health benefits—and they held true for professional and amateur events alike.

The correlation makes sense. Watching people perform incredible feats of personal and collective excellence before your very eyes just drives home how incredible the human body is, and maybe even how lucky we are to be alive. Rooting in a crowd collectively gets your blood pumping, and, more often than not, silly chants or jokes will have you laughing while riding that will-they-or-won’t-they emotional roller coaster, in a good way. The feeling of being a part of something—and part of a community all rooting for the same thing—is undeniable.

“Watching live sport of all types provides many opportunities for social interaction and this helps to forge group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and boosts levels of well-being,” lead author Helen Keyes, PhD, head of the school of psychology and sport science at Anglia Ruskin University, said in a press release.

Researchers are interested in the mental health benefits of watching live sports because decreased loneliness and increased life satisfaction are associated with longevity. The study authors hypothesize that their findings could perhaps support public health initiatives to provide more access to live sports.

And at the very least, these findings could serve as an extra incentive to take yourself out to a ball game, or maybe try something new, even if you’re “not into sports.” You don’t have to be the one playing to get the mental health benefits. And who knows, you might like it!