How the World Cup is affecting our lives and our health

June 14, 2010 by  

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Last Friday, the headline in the German newspaper said “Starting Today, the World is a Ball”. They were referring of course to the opening of the Football World Cup (aka Soccer World Cup in some parts of the globe), supposedly the biggest sports event in the world.

Now, I don’t want to be a spoil sports literally but I would like to point out to you how this two-week event can affect yourself. And before you sports fans start attacking/spamming me, I love football, too and I’ve seen a couple of World and European Cup matches live, experiences well worth the time and money spent. But the World Cup or any major sporting event for that matter does have an effect on our health.


Football is a very emotional sport, no doubt about that. Results from a survey by the Social Issues Research centre (SIRC) revealed that “football is associated with passion, emotion, excitement and dedication across Europe.” Emotions such a “pure joy” and “exhilaration” are part of it all but so is despair. Either way, European men are known to be reduced to tears during football matches involving the teams they are supporting.


The last World Cup in 2006 in Germany was a great opportunity for researchers to investigate relationship between the emotional stress triggered by the sports events and the incidence of cardiovascular events. German doctors in Munich examined data of 4279 patients. Their findings showed that on those days when Germany was playing, the number of emergency cases due to cardiac problems was 2.66 times more than the normal incidence. This is especially evident in men where it was 3.26 times more. However, take note. Although football is supposedly a “man thing”, the incidence among women was also elevated at 1.82 times more. One gets to wonder whether this increase for women is really about football or more from being completely ignored by their men.

Do you think this increase in incidence of cardiac events was simply a coincidence? Well, the researchers also looked at the timing details and found that the increase in cardiac events occurred during the first 2 hours after the start of each match, not before or just any other time of the day. The take home message is:

“Viewing a stressful soccer match more than doubles the risk of an acute cardiovascular event. In view of this excess risk, particularly in men with known coronary heart disease, preventive measures are urgently needed.”

I wonder if the same trend will be seen this year.


There is nothing like sausages and steak on the grill plus a bottle of ice cold beer to make football matches more enjoyable. This is not exactly the healthiest of diets, especially for cardiovascular health. But it is one of the rituals that make football what it is. Just don’t forget to add some salad, please.

Sedentary time

A football match lasts 2 x 45 minutes, plus half time break, injury time, and sometimes extension time. A whole match therefore, can run up to 2 hours. That is a long time to sit in front of the TV. Last weekend, there were 3 matches each day. An avid football fan can easily spend 5 to 6 hours a day watching a ball being kicked around. A recent study by Canadian researchers showed sedentary time such as spent in front of the TV is harmful to our health.

According to Travis Saunders, a researcher in exercise physiology at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa:

After two to seven hours of uninterrupted sitting, there is evidence “that is enough to increase [subjects’] blood sugar, to decrease their good cholesterol and to have a real impact on their health.”


The heat can add insult to the injury done by alcohol and red meat. Yes, it is almost wintertime in South Africa where the matches are happening but it is almost summer in Europe. Alcohol, heat, and emotional stress. Now that is what I call fatal combination. Let us hope that fans would also leave driving a car out of it.

Relationships and gender issues

Another study by the SIRC revealed that many European women may be resentful of football especially during the World Cup when they suddenly become “football widows.” As long as the fridge is filled with beer, they ceased to exist. A survey showed that “72% of Spanish respondents would prefer football to partnership interactions during the matches. 67% of Norwegians and 64% of Dutch and German fans feel the same.” Thank God for Carrie and her gang, European women have something else to see. Two years ago, Sex and the City I was the ladies’ escape during the European Cup. This time it’s Sex and the City II. Now, that is what I call perfect timing.

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