Lots of Alabamians love to watch football – especially college football – and suffer through the ups and downs of their favorite squads.
In fact, fans in Birmingham watched more football on ESPN last season than ever before.
But a nurse at The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) says that the excitement of football can be unhealthy.
“The body doesn’t distinguish between ‘bad’ stress from life or work and ‘good’ stress caused by game-day excitement,” said Jody Gilchrist, a nurse practitioner at the UAB Heart and Vascular Clinic at The Kirklin Clinic at Acton Road, in a UAB news release on Friday. “It impacts your health either way.”
Hard-fought games and tough defeats create heightened sensory inputs that trigger the release of adrenaline, which can reduce blood flow to the heart and other muscles and increase heart rate and blood pressure, according to the news release.
A lot of people also eat too much while watching football, according to Gilchrist. “Some people are stress eaters, and others tend to eat more when watching TV,” she said.
Many armchair quarterbacks may drink too much, as well, which can be a particular danger for heart patients, because alcohol can alter the way heart medications and other drugs work in the body, according to Gilchrist.
And regardless of drug interactions, doctors recommend that people limit their alcohol intake to two drinks per day, for both dietary and behavioral reasons.
“Binge drinking is bad because alcohol contains empty calories,” Gilchrist said. “Since alcohol decreases your inhibitions, you are more likely to overeat or eat things that you might normally avoid.”
Gilchrest suggests substituting light beers for regular beers or mixing a half glass of wine with seltzer to make it go further.
Here are nine other tips to help make football games a healthier experience:
• Minimize stress by watching the game with people you like and enjoy.
• Do out a few push-ups or sit-ups during the commercials.
• Chew gum or squeeze a stress ball to reduce anxiety.
• Take a walk at halftime.
• Manage your net dietary intake by planning ahead and making healthier choices at other times in anticipation of splurging during the game.
• If tailgating at the stadium, try to conserve calories earlier in the day.
• If tailgating at home, consider using vegetables in place of chips for dips, and substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream or cream cheese dips.
• Because sodium causes fluid retention — something especially bad for heart patients — avoid foods that have more than 1 mg of sodium per calorie. Natural foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables generally contain much less, so opt for them whenever possible.
• Avoid sodas, which are extremely high in sodium.