Exciting football matches increases the risk of heart trouble – in the TV chair

Shunsuke Nakamura taking a free kick, during Japan's world cup qualifier against Bahrain on June 22, 2008. Photo: neier. Picture shared under the licence CC BY-SA 3.0http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/Les dette innlegget på norske her!
Periodically we hear from the media about footballers who incur heart complications during soccer matches, but watching exciting matches on TV may prove to be just as risky a “sport”. During the football World Cup which was held in Germany in 2006, German scientists studied the incidence of acute cardiac complications in the Munich area to determine whether the incidence of such events was increased in the days when the German team played one of their World Cup matches. Incidences of myocardial infarction, arrhythmias, cardiac arrest or activation of implanted defibrillators were examined.

Compared with the incidence of cardiovascular complications during control periods (from May to July in 2003 and 2005), the incidence of cardiovascular emergencies on Germany match days were over 2.5 times higher during the World Cup in 2006, and the increase was particularly marked in men. The highest incidence of events was observed within two hours after the start of the match, which corresponded with the emotional stress experienced during the match. Specifically, the number of cardiac complications in patients with known heart disease was increased four-fold on match days. The corresponding increase among patients without a history of heart disease was doubled.

These findings suggest that emotional stress associated with watching important games can increase the risk of acute cardiac complications, especially in men with a history of coronary heart disease (narrow blood vessels in the heart’s blood supply).

Winner of Advent Calendar December 4thWe already know that exercise reduces cardiac complications among both healthy individuals and in patients with known heart disease. Recent studies conducted by The K.G. Jebsen – Center for Exercise Medicine at NTNU in Trondheim, suggest that training, particularly at high intensity, is suitable for improving cardiovascular fitness in both healthy and diseased hearts. This means that interval training provides good stimulus for increased general health and also increases cardiac work. However, the risk that something unforeseen should occur generally increased during exercise, and this is especially true in individuals who already are inactive. Admittedly, it turns out that this risk is greatly reduced in individuals who have chosen to be physically active.

A question then is whether it is risky to exercise at high intensity for patients who already have known coronary heart disease. To determine this, we investigated the incidence of acute cardiac complications during exercise with both high- and moderate-intensity among 4846 patients who underwent training during their cardiac rehabilitation. From 176 820 training hours, we could not find a difference between the groups in terms of heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest incidence either while training, or just afterwards. We already know that high intensity exercise is better suited for improving overall cardiovascular health both in healthy individuals as well as in cardiac patients. It remains then, not only for professional footballers, but also for couch-potatoes to throw themselves into training to be as prepared as possible to watch football from the couch.

Øivind Rognmo, Researcher at CERG

Reference: Wilbert-Lampen U et al. (2008) Cardiovascular events during World Cup soccer. N Engl J Med 358: 475–483. http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa0707427

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