Attending live sport improves wellbeing and reduces loneliness, study finds
[Mar. 20, 2023: JD Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]
Attending live sporting events has been found to improve levels of wellbeing and reduce feelings of loneliness, according to new scientific research. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
Attending live sporting events has been found to improve levels of wellbeing and reduce feelings of loneliness, according to new scientific research published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health. The study, carried out by academics from Anglia Ruskin University’s School of Psychology and Sport Science, is the first large-scale study to examine the benefits of attending any type of live sporting event.
The research used data from 7,209 adults aged 16-85 living in England who participated in the Taking Part Survey commissioned by the British Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. It found that attending live sporting events results in higher scores of two major measurements of subjective wellbeing – life satisfaction and a sense of “life being worthwhile” – as well as lower levels of loneliness.
These results are significant as previous studies have shown that higher life satisfaction scores are associated with fewer life-limiting conditions, better physical health, successful ageing, and lower mortality rates. Therefore, initiatives currently promoting the benefits of physical participation in sport could be extended to encourage watching live sporting events as an accessible and effective public health tool for improving wellbeing and reducing loneliness.
Lead author Dr Helen Keyes, Head of the School of Psychology and Sport Science at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Previous research has focused on specific sports or small population samples, such as college students in the United States. Ours is the first study to look at the benefits of attending any sporting event across an adult population, and therefore our findings could be useful for shaping future public health strategies, such as offering reduced ticket prices for certain groups.”
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“The live events covered by the survey ranged from free amateur events, such as watching village sports teams, right through to Premier League football matches. Therefore, further research needs to be carried out to see if these benefits are more pronounced for elite level sport or are more closely linked to supporting a specific team.”
Dr Keyes adds: “However, we do know that watching live sport of all types provides many opportunities for social interaction and this helps to forge group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and boosts levels of wellbeing.”
The study has important implications for policy makers, particularly given the recent focus on loneliness and wellbeing, with UK Prime Minister Theresa May appointing a minister for loneliness in January 2018. Improving wellbeing and reducing loneliness are essential components of a healthy population and strategies to achieve this have often focused on promoting physical activity, social interaction, and community engagement.
Estimated marginal means for subjective well-being (SWB - life satisfaction, a sense that life is worthwhile), and loneliness by age group or employment and attendance at live sporting events (LSE). (CREDIT: Frontiers in Public Health)
Dr Keyes added, “Our results suggest that live sporting events have the potential to be an effective tool for promoting wellbeing and reducing loneliness, particularly among those who may be more socially and economically disadvantaged,” she says.
“While physical activity is important for maintaining good health, initiatives promoting the benefits of physical activity may not be accessible or appealing to everyone. Watching live sporting events, on the other hand, is a more accessible and appealing option for many people, and our findings suggest that it can provide significant benefits for wellbeing and social connectedness.”
Co-efficient (standard error) from hierarchical multiple regressions predicting satisfaction, happiness, sense of life being worthwhile, anxiety and loneliness with regression coefficients (β) specified for all predictor variables at each block of the regression. (CREDIT: Frontiers in Public Health)
The study’s results suggest that live sporting events could offer a valuable avenue to achieve these outcomes. Promoting and facilitating attendance at live sporting events could provide an accessible way for people to participate in their local communities, improve wellbeing, and reduce loneliness.
Although previous studies have found that participation in sport has many benefits for mental and physical health, research on the benefits of watching live sporting events has been limited. In particular, the current study is the first to examine the relationship between live sporting events and loneliness, an issue which has become increasingly important in recent years.
The study’s findings are consistent with previous research on the importance of social interaction and community involvement for mental health and wellbeing. However, it is worth noting that the study does not establish a causal relationship between attending live sporting events and improved wellbeing, meaning that further research is needed to determine the extent to which these benefits are due to attending live sporting events or to other factors such as social support, community involvement, and physical activity.
The study’s authors note that promoting attendance at live sporting events as a public health strategy will require further research, particularly in terms of identifying the most effective types of events and targeting specific groups. For example, it may be more effective to target groups who are at higher risk of loneliness or who have limited access to social networks.
The study has some limitations, however. As it is a cross-sectional study, it cannot establish causality – in other words, it cannot prove that attending live sporting events causes higher levels of wellbeing and lower levels of loneliness. Additionally, the study only measured attendance at sporting events in the previous 12 months and did not account for how frequently participants attended events or how much they enjoyed them.
Despite these limitations, the study provides important insights into the potential benefits of attending live sporting events for wellbeing and social connectedness. The findings suggest that policymakers and public health professionals should consider the role of sporting events in promoting health and wellbeing, particularly for those who may be more socially and economically disadvantaged.
“Sport has the potential to be a powerful tool for promoting wellbeing and reducing loneliness,” Dr Keyes says. “Our study provides evidence that watching live sporting events can be an effective way to achieve these goals, and we hope that our findings will inform future public health initiatives aimed at promoting social connectedness and wellbeing.”
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