Just watching a hockey game can put significant stress on the heart, a new study claims.

“Our results indicate that viewing a hockey game can likewise be the source of an intense emotional stress, as manifested by marked increases in heart rate,” said senior investigator Dr. Paul Khairy, who’s with the Montreal Heart Institute at the University of Montreal.

“The study raises the potential that the emotional stress-induced response of viewing a hockey game can trigger adverse cardiovascular events on a population level,” he added. “Therefore, the results have important public health implications.”

Previous studies have shown that watching soccer could trigger heart-related events, particularly for those with heart disease. In this Canadian study, the researchers examined the effect of hockey, taking the pulse of fans during a game using portable monitors.

When the study began, the participants also completed questionnaires about their health and their passion for the sport of hockey. Using this information, the investigators gave each person a “fan passion score” to help predict changes in their heart rate in response to a game.

The study found that, on average, the heart rate of those who watched the game live more than doubled, increasing by 110 percent. Watching a game on TV had a similar effect, increasing the heart rate of spectators by 75 percent.

The effects on the heart were most notable when players either attempted to score or tried to block shots on goal. Peak heart rates were also recorded during overtime, the study authors added.

The findings were published Oct. 5 in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

“Our analysis of elements of the hockey game associated with peak heart rates supports the notion that it is not the outcome of the game that primarily determines the intensity of the emotional stress response, but rather the excitement experienced with viewing high-stakes or high-intensity portions of the game,” Khairy said in a journal news release.

Overall, heart rate increased by a median of 92 percent among all the spectators, according to the report.

The findings should raise awareness about the potential role that sports-related stressors could play in triggering cardiac events, according to Khairy.

The authors of an accompanying journal editorial, Drs. David Waters and Stanley Nattel, said the research should encourage doctors to speak to their heart patients about the risks of watching sports.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about stress and heart health.