By Josie Rubio
If watching baseball, the NBA finals, the Stanley Cup playoffs—or even your kids’ summer soccer games—is cutting into your workout time, there’s some good news. Watching sports can actually give you some of the benefits of exercise.
According to an Australian study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, viewing physical activity can increase muscle sympathetic nerve activity, as well as heart rate, respiratory rate and blood flow to the skin.
Who hasn’t wished that simply watching a game (or workout video) could make you fit? While the physical responses are the same as actually getting some exercise, these changes are small. The heart rate of one of the study’s subjects, for example, increased by only two beats per minute. For someone with a resting heart rate of 60, the target heart rate is 122 beats per minute, so don't cancel your gym membership quite yet.
However, watching sports also has some psychological benefits. Multiple studies have found that sports fans often exhibit higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression. Lead researcher Brian Wann, Ph.D., who studies the psychological aspects of sports fandom, told The Saturday Evening Post that these positive effects are tied to the social connections and bonding among fans.
And, of course, while watching the games you have to navigate the food choices like wings, pizza, hot dogs, nachos, chips, dips and beer that often serve as game-day fare. (Super Bowl Sunday, after all, does outweigh Thanksgiving as the day Americans consume the most calories.) According to a University of Arkansas at Little Rock study, sports fans tend to consume fewer vegetables and more fats, fast food and refined grains, as well as more alcohol on days they drank.
Find motivation from watching your favorite athletes. As long as you stay away from things like hot-dog-crust pizza—and don’t skip too many days at the gym to cheer for your team—watching sports can actually be good for your fitness goals.