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Anglia Ruskin University study shows attending live sport improves wellbeing

New scientific research carried out by Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) has found that attending live sporting events improves levels of wellbeing and reduces feelings of loneliness.

Published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, the research is the first large-scale study to examine the benefits of attending any type of live sporting event.

Dr Helen Keyes
Dr Helen Keyes

The study, undertaken by academics at ARU’s School of Psychology and Sport Science, used data from 7,209 adults, aged 16-85, living in England who participated in the Taking Part survey, which was commissioned by the 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 and better physical health, successful ageing, and lower mortality rates.

Lead author Dr Helen Keyes, head of the School of Psychology and Sport Science at ARU, told the Cambridge Independent: “I think it was really quite interesting because there wasn’t a small-scale study where we just went and collected some data ourselves - which is usually quite limited - it was actually part of a government-wide data collection drive where they collected data on everything across a range of measures.

“Some of the questions they asked were around whether people had attended any live sporting events, as well as things like gender and their socio-economic status, whether they were in employment - all of these things that we would typically think might feed into measures of wellbeing and loneliness and general happiness in the population.

“So we were able to take advantage of this because the government published this data for any researchers to access, so we really honed in on our own research question, which was around the attendance at live sporting events.”

Dr Keyes notes that the results didn’t specify differences between the various sporting events. “We found that they didn't distinguish between, say, attending a football match or attending a cricket match or a snooker tournament,” she says, “it was just in general any attendance at a live sporting event - so not watching on TV but attending as a spectator had a direct impact on wellbeing.

“And three really interesting things stood out to me. They were that the effect on people’s sense that their life was worthwhile and the effect of attending live sporting events was even bigger than the effect of whether the person was in employment or not - that’s a huge effect! You can imagine that the effect of being in employment or not would have on your sense that life is worthwhile...

“The other interesting thing is your sense of general satisfaction with your life, that was a significant effect but it was comparable to the effect of your age. So in general as we get older people are more satisfied with their life, and the effect of attending a live sporting event had as much impact as about 20 years of ageing, which is really significant.

“The last thing I found was really interesting, and probably quite intuitive really, was our study was one of the first to look at loneliness and the effect of attending live sporting events. So as you might imagine, just being part of that crowd - whatever type of sport it is, whether your team wins or loses - is that being part of a common purpose together with a crowd of people had a really nice effect on reducing loneliness.”

[Read more: Faculty of Science and Engineering at Anglia Ruskin University to host 2023 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards]

The full open access study, published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, is available at frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2022.989706.

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