Watching sports can boost wellbeing, reveals study

Watching sports is good for you. This was discovered by a team of researchers from Japan who found that watching sports activates brain reward circuits, leading to improved wellbeing.

Led by Associate Professor Shintaro Sato from the Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University, Japan, the team used a multi-method approach, combining secondary data analysis, self-reports, and neuroimaging measures to understand the connection between sports viewing and wellbeing in the general population.

“A significant challenge in wellbeing research is the subjective nature of measurement procedures, potentially leading to biased findings. Therefore, our studies focused on both subjective and objective measures of wellbeing,” said Sato.

Joining Sato in the research were Assistant Professor Keita Kinoshita from Nanyang Technological University, and Dr Kento Nakagawa from the Faculty of Human Sciences, Waseda University. Their research was published online on March 22 in Sports Management Review.

In the first study, the researchers analysed 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 wellbeing, associated with regular sports viewing.

However, this study was limited by its inability to provide deeper insight into the relationship between sports consumption and wellbeing.

The second study, an online survey aimed at investigating whether the connection between sports viewing and wellbeing varied depending on the type of sport observed, involved 208 participants. The experiment exposed them to various sports videos, assessing their wellbeing, both before, and after viewing.

The findings underscored that widely embraced sports, like baseball, exerted a more significant impact on enhancing wellbeing, compared to less popular sports, such as golf.

However, the most ground-breaking aspect of this research emerged in the third study. Here, the team employed neuroimaging techniques to scrutinise alterations in brain activity following sports viewing. Utilising multimodal MRI neuroimaging measurement procedures, the brain activity of 14 able-bodied Japanese participants was analysed while they watched sports clips.

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

Additionally, a noteworthy finding surfaced in the structural image analysis. It revealed that individuals who reported watching sports more frequently exhibited greater grey 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 wellbeing were found to be positively influenced by engaging in sports viewing. By inducing structural changes in the brain’s reward system over time, it fosters long-term benefits for individuals,” said Sato.

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

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