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Good InfoWatching Sports Boosts Well-being and Improves Your Health, According to ‘Ground-breaking’ Research

Watching Sports Boosts Well-being and Improves Your Health, According to ‘Ground-breaking’ Research

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Beyond simply providing entertainment and relaxation, watching sports fosters community and belonging, which benefits both individuals and their society.

Despite its recognized positive effects, limited evidence exists on the link between watching sports and well-being. To address this gap, the team of Japanese researchers used a multi-method approach and found that sports viewing activates brain reward circuits, leading to improved well-being.

This is especially true when watching popular sports like baseball or football, which can notably boost both physical and mental well-being.

Their research offers insights for public health policies and individual well-being enhancement.

Led by Associate Professor Shintaro Sato from the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University, the team found that watching sport—particularly in large crowds—goes “beyond entertainment” by fostering a sense of community and personal belonging.

“This sense of connection not only makes individuals feel good but also benefits society by improving health, enhancing productivity, and reducing crime,” said Professor Sato.

He explained that a significant challenge in well-being research is the subjective nature of measurement procedures, potentially leading to biased findings. These studies focused on both subjective and objective measures of well-being, combining secondary data analysis, self-reports, and neuro-imaging measures to understand the connection.

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In the first study, the researchers analyzed large-scale publicly available data on the influence of watching sports on 20,000 Japanese residents. The results of this study confirmed the ongoing pattern of elevated reported well-being associated with regular sports viewing. However, this study was limited by its inability to provide deeper insight into the relationship between sports consumption and well-being.

The second study, an online survey involving 208 participants, aimed at investigating whether the connection between sports viewing and well-being varied depending on the type of sport observed.

The experiment exposed them to a range of sports videos, assessing their well-being both before and after viewing.

The findings underscored that widely embraced sports, such as football, exerted a “more significant” impact on enhancing well-being compared to less popular sports, such as golf.

However, the most ground-breaking aspect of the research emerged in the third study where the team employed neuro-imaging techniques to scrutinize alterations in the brain activity of 14 Japanese participants before and after watching sports clips.

The results showed that watching sports triggered activation in the brain’s reward circuits, indicative of feelings of happiness or pleasure.

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Analysis also revealed that people who reported watching sports more frequently exhibited greater gray matter volume in regions associated with reward circuits, suggesting that regular sports viewing may gradually induce changes in brain structures.

“Both subjective and objective measures of well-being were found to be positively influenced by engaging in sports viewing,” said Prof. Sato.

“By inducing structural changes in the brain’s reward system over time, it fosters long-term benefits for individuals.”

“For those seeking to enhance their overall well-being, regularly watching sports, particularly popular ones such as baseball or soccer, can serve as an effective remedy.”

Prof. Sato says the findings, published in the journal Sport Management Review, have “profound” implications for not only sports fans but in a larger general population irrespective of their relationship to sports consumption.

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