MONTREAL — Hockey players put their bodies on the line when they lace up their skates and hit the ice, and as it turns out, so do the fans. A study finds that the thrill of a hard-fought hockey victory boosts the odds of a heart attack in men under 55.
The Montreal Canadiens are one of the most decorated and storied National Hockey League franchises. Their devoted fanbase is well-known, so researchers from the Montreal Heart Institute looked at hospitalization data for patients at the clinic to determine whether there was a correlation between heart attacks and Canadiens games.
They found that when the Canadiens win, hospital admissions spike in Montreal for men under 55. Cardiologists see a clear rise in ST-elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), or heart attack, according to the study.
“Our study is the first to evaluate the association between local hockey games and admission rates for acute STEMI. Since the inauguration of the NHL in 1917, the Montreal Canadiens remains the team with the most Stanley Cup wins and is known for its extremely loyal and enthusiastic fan base,” explains lead investigator Dr. Hung Q. Ly, interventional cardiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute, in a statement. “This historical role of the city of Montreal might explain in part the association between higher admission rates for STEMI.”
Ly says the highest admission rates occurred after nail-biter home victories, with a 40 percent increase in younger and middle-aged men. Interestingly, more heart attacks were seen after wins than losses.
Women, on the other hand, were found to be less likely to suffer from heart attack symptoms, despite previous research indicating women to be more likely to experience mental stress-induced myocardial ischemia, which occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced, preventing it from receiving enough oxygen. That reduction leads to a partial or complete blockage of coronary arteries.
Of course, Ly points out that poor lifestyle choices combined with the rush of a sporting event can be a dangerous combination. He notes that young men were also most likely to be obese or smoke cigarettes, which only worsens their risk of suffering a heart attack.
“Previous studies have suggested that unhealthy behavioral changes including increased alcohol consumption, heavy and fatty meals, smoking, drug use, or sleep deprivation may have additive effects on the link between sporting events and increased cardiovascular risk in spectators,” says Ly.
The researchers hope their research leads to a better understanding of how sports affect spectator health in Canada and the world.
The study was published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.