The number of Americans diagnosed with Alzheimer’s rises each year, making it more important than ever to take steps to reduce your risk.
Along with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, cheering on your favorite team can help prevent future memory loss by keeping your brain socially and mentally engaged. Rooting for your favorite player as he runs down the court and takes a shot, for example, can help you feel connected directly to the athletes and the activity. And that connection is not just a feeling — it’s backed by neuroscience.
A research study at the University of Rome found that when you actively watch a sporting event, mirror neurons within the right side of your brain connect with the movements of your favorite players to make it feel as if you’re actually playing the game.
And when The Magic — or another favorite team — make a basket or win a game, your brain releases dopamine, a feel-good chemical that acts as a messenger between brain cells. The study concluded that regularly listening to and watching sports stimulates different areas of the brain, and can even improve brain function.
You don’t have to be a die-hard fan to reap the brain-boosting benefits of watching sports, either. Watching sports increases thinking and visualizing abilities whether you’re a former player, an avid fan or new to the sport. The mirror neurons ensure that although you aren’t in the game, your brain responds as if it’s actively playing the sport.
Take Those Buzzer Beaters Easy for Your Heart Health
Of course, when your team isn’t doing well, the emotional stress causes a release of the stress hormone cortisol. This is one reason that extreme fans can be at risk of increased heart rate and higher blood pressure — sometimes even a heart attack — during an intense game.
If you feel any chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath while watching a sports game, especially if you’re already at risk for heart attack or stroke, you may need a time out.
Protect Your Brain Health
Watching the Orlando Magic, or any favorite team, is good for your whole health. Being part of a community that roots for the same team gives us a sense of connection, even when our team loses. That feeling of closeness with other fans, along with the connections your brain is making while you watch the athletes in action, are important factors in protecting your brain health.
June is Alzheimer's and Brain Awareness month. Honor those living with memory loss by learning to keep your brain active and sharp, learning the warning signs of Alzheimer’s and talking with your doctor about other ways to boost your brain power.