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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 April, 2003, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
Watching football 'cuts heart deaths'
French World Cup celebrations
Euphoria greeted the French win
Scientists believe they may have found a way to reduce the risk of a heart attack - watch an exciting football match.

However, it may be a high risk strategy, as it only seems to hold good if your team wins.

Previous research has suggested that the passion and tension of an important football match can be literally heart-stopping.

In fact, researchers found that the number of heart attacks increased by 25% when England lost to Argentina in a penalty competition at the 1998 World Cup.

But a new study suggests that watching your side actually win an important game may have the reverse effect.

The researchers examined death rates from heart attack in France in the period around the national side's 3-0 win the 1998 World Cup final against Brazil.

They found that the day of the final itself saw a significant dip in the number of people who died from a heart attack.

Heart attack deaths among men averaged 33 in the five days preceding and following the final, but numbered 23 on the day of the final itself.

There was a similar trend for women. In the days running up to and after the final the average number of heart attack deaths was 28, but just 18 on the day itself.

Possible factors

Although I'm sure many people would be pleased to hear that a national win for England could reduce their risks of a heart attack - it's just not that simple
Belinda Linden
The researchers believe the phenomenon may be due to a combination of low activity levels and the euphoria of a national win acting to reduce stress levels.

Lead researcher Dr Frédéric Berthier told BBC News Online: "The reasons for the decreased death rate remain unclear.

"But we think that it may be due to the combined effect of the euphoria due to the victory and of the day off work as the final was on a Sunday."

Previous research has shown that the number of medical emergencies went down in England during the 1996 European Championship.

And another study found that fewer people were admitted as emergency psychiatric admissions in Scotland during World Cup final competitions.

Too simple

However, Belinda Linden, of the British Heart Foundation, warned against jumping to conclusions.

She said: "Although I'm sure many people would be pleased to hear that a national win for England could reduce their risks of a heart attack - it's just not that simple.

"The development of fatty deposits within the coronary arteries that leads to coronary heart disease usually builds up over many years and is often a result of several lifestyle factors including poor diet, smoking and lack of physical activity - a heart attack could happen at any time.

"The researchers suggest that perhaps it is lower levels of activity that reduce stress and that this leads to a reduction in the number of heart attacks on the day of the football final in France.

"However, in about 70% of cases the onset of a heart attack starts when at rest."

The research is published in the journal Heart.




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