Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Football Matches and Heart Attacks!

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink said after Chelsea's 4-4 Champions League draw with Liverpool last season that his heart " is now around 100 beats per minute because the game's been finished for 15 minutes. But at the time of the game it was up to 160 or 180 beats per minute!"

What does this mean? Let's try to put this into perspective.
A healthy adult heart (depending on his/her age) beats at around 60-100 beats per minute. As one ages, the heart beat per minute is more. Strong emotions, physical activity and infections can cause a heart to beat faster. In the case above, it's emotions which is making Hiddink's heart palpitate at an elevated level. Now, is this safe, you may want to ask?

Mathematically, the permissible heart rate of a person can go up to is
(220 - AGE OF THAT PERSON) beats per minute
hence in Guus Hiddink's case (he is 63 years old), the highest heart rate he could reach before cardiac arrest is (220-63)=167 beats per minute (bpm). So if he said his heart beat during the match was 160 bpm then I shudder to think how dangerously close he was to a heart attack if that match continued for another 15-20 minutes! Aaah, that's why the pundits call him Lucky Guus.

What about the fans? How does a football match affect the physiological side of being a fan? Canon commissioned a research performed by SIRC (The Social Issues Research Centre) which was aimed to capture the feelings and emotions of football fans in support of their football teams. This report was released in 2008. Incidentally SIRC also measured heartbeats of particular fans as they experienced the ebb and flow of the match they attended.

In the report, a Paris Saint Germain vs. Monaco match was cited to highlight fluctuations in the heart rate of a PSG fan during the first half of PSG's clash with Monaco at the Parc des Princes. That fan's heart rate can be shown as below,We could see the arrival of the players onto the pitch and their introduction to the crowd as an emotional high point of the match experience. The heart rate of this subject reaches an extraordinary peak of 187 bpm at this point, a rate from which it gradually – and perhaps thankfully – decreases until the 40th minute of the game. Anticipation and the 'fan-fare' of the build up to the game play a crucial role here. The context of the match also adds to the intensity of the experience. Fans get immersed in team talk often days before the actual event. By the time match day comes around countless discussions, whether online or face-to-face, would have taken place regarding team selection, tactics, team formation, the current form of players and managers as well as the importance of the next encounter to team's standing in the league. Prior to this match on February 23rd, PSG were perilously close to the relegation zone and Monaco, while lying towards the top of Ligue 1, were smarting from a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Bordeaux. The game, ending in a hard-fought draw (1-1), saw few real chances in the first half. A total of 34 fouls occurred during the match, over 2/3 of these were in the first half. A number of attacking moves, particularly from PSG, were viewed by the referee to be offside, which also interrupted the flow of play. The heart rate of the subject reflects the rather fragmented nature of the opening period – and perhaps his frustration – and it is not until the 40th minute that the deadlock is broken with Rothen's (a former Monaco player) shot from the left side of the box forcing a save. The subject's heart rate increases rapidly – by 70 bpm in less than 40 seconds – with the attacking move culminating in the attempt on goal. The PSG fan's heart rate falls to just below 140 bpm, only to rise again to 172 bpm with DianĂ©'s goal in the 41st minute, putting PSG 1-0 in front. Despite the dramatic increases in heart rate towards the end of the first half, the level of arousal in the subject when his team scores is not as high as the rate recorded before kick-off. The sense of anticipation prior to the match elevates heart rate to levels equivalent to those accompanying goals. I bet this young fan was as physically tired as he would be psychologically after the match!

It's not just about attending matches in stadiums, even watching major soccer events on telly can be just as hazardous. Researchers found that the soccer fans more than doubled their risk of having a heart attack, experiencing serious chest pains, or developing an irregular heartbeat known as an arrythmia while watching their national team play during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was played in Germany that year. The Italian national team won the tournament. Germany finished third. The study, which included more than 4,000 people admitted to the hospital for heart problems during the monthlong soccer tournament, showed that the rate of cardiac emergencies was 2.66 times greater on the days the German team played than when the team wasn't playing. Male fans had a higher risk of going to the hospital for heart problems than female fans. Those previously diagnosed with heart disease had the highest risk. This study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in conjunction with Super Bowl weekend in January last year

Nevertheless, the emotional highs and lows in a football or soccer are what draws sports fans to the game. The agony of defeat and the thrill of victory are the exact emotions that bond us fans to the teams that we support, a sense of connection so to speak. So what if our hearts skip a beat or we suffer fainting spells, the main thing is that we have supported our team in the best possible way that we can.

But clearly for some fans and managers, football truly is a matter of life and death.

So at the risk of a heart attack....Come On You Irons!

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