Breaking news: Watching sports is good for you

Breaking news: Watching sports is good for you

Hold onto your team-logoed ballcaps and giant foam fingers.

A new study by Japanese scientists found that watching sports is good for us. More specifically, frequent sports viewing may rewire our brains — in a good way.

Beyond its entertainment value, it’s long been known that sports foster a sense of belonging and community. But little scientific study had been devoted to understanding why.

Here’s how the researchers came to their findings.

First, they analyzed publicly available data on the influence of sports-watching on 20,000 Japanese adults. That confirmed an ongoing pattern of reported elevated well-being associated with sports viewing.

Then they conducted an online experiment with more than 200 people. They showed various sports videos and assessed participants’ well-being before and after. They found that more popular sports, like baseball, had more impact on well-being than less popular sports, like golf. (Sorry, Tiger.)

The final part of the study used neuroimaging to look at changes in brain activity following sports viewing.

Researchers took MRIs from 14 able-bodied Japanese adults as they watched sports clips. Watching the clips triggered the participants’ reward circuits, indicating happiness.

Here’s where it got really interesting: They found that participants who reported more frequent sports viewing often had more gray matter volume in parts of the brain tied to reward. Scientists said that suggests regular sports viewing may gradually induce changes in brain structure.

The study, however, did not explore the health effects of 14 trips to the kitchen or concession stand for beer and hot dogs.

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