New Research Finds Watching Sports Boosts Well-Being And Improves One’s Health


Watching sports extends beyond mere entertainment and relaxation, playing a crucial role in fostering a sense of community and belonging, which in turn benefits both individuals and society at large.

This positive impact of sports viewing on well-being has been widely recognized, yet concrete evidence linking these activities to well-being has been sparse. To bridge this gap, a team of Japanese researchers led by Associate Professor Shintaro Sat from the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Waseda University employed a comprehensive, multi-method approach to explore the relationship between sports viewing and well-being, specifically looking at large crowds and how it goes “beyond entertainment” by cultivating a sense of community and personal belonging.

“This sense of connection not only makes individuals feel good but also benefits society by improving health, enhancing productivity, and reducing crime,” said Professor Sato.

The researchers utilized a combination of secondary data analysis, self-reported surveys, and neuro-imaging techniques to gain a deeper understanding of how watching sports affects individuals. Their findings indicated that watching sports, particularly popular ones like baseball and football, activates brain reward circuits, enhancing both physical and mental well-being.

The first phase of the study involved analyzing publicly available data on the influence of sports viewing on the well-being of 20,000 Japanese residents. This large-scale analysis confirmed that regular sports viewers consistently reported higher levels of well-being. However, the study had its limitations as it did not provide in-depth insights into the nuanced relationship between sports consumption and well-being.

To delve deeper, the researchers conducted an online survey with 208 participants. This survey aimed to determine whether the type of sport viewed influenced the well-being of viewers. Participants watched various sports videos, and their well-being was assessed both before and after the viewing sessions.

The findings highlighted that widely popular sports, such as football, had a significantly “more significant” impact on enhancing well-being compared to less popular sports, such as golf.

The most groundbreaking part of the research involved the use of neuro-imaging techniques to examine changes in brain activity. Fourteen Japanese participants were subjected to brain scans before and after watching sports clips.

The results showed that watching sports activated the brain’s reward circuits, which are associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure. Further analysis revealed that individuals who watched sports more frequently had greater gray matter volume in regions linked to these reward circuits, suggesting that regular sports viewing could lead to structural changes in the brain.

Prof. Sato said, “Both subjective and objective measures of well-being were found to be positively influenced by engaging in sports viewing.”

“By inducing structural changes in the brain’s reward system over time, it fosters long-term benefits for individuals.”

“For those seeking to enhance their overall well-being, regularly watching sports, particularly popular ones such as baseball or soccer, can serve as an effective remedy,” he added.

Professor Sato highlighted the “profound” implications of these findings – published in the journal Sport Management Review – not only for sports enthusiasts but for the general population as well. The research suggests that watching sports can be a valuable tool for enhancing well-being and could inform public health policies aimed at improving mental and physical health.

One of the key takeaways from the research is that watching sports, particularly in large crowds, goes beyond mere entertainment. It fosters a sense of community and personal belonging. This communal aspect is crucial as it helps individuals feel connected to others, thereby enhancing their overall well-being.

Professor Sato acknowledged a significant challenge in well-being research: the subjective nature of measurement procedures, which can lead to biased findings. To mitigate this, the researchers used a combination of subjective and objective measures, including self-reports and neuro-imaging data, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of sports viewing on well-being.