Sweaty palms, feeling your heart in your throat, nausea and low mood… these are all experiences commonly shared by many a sports fan when watching their favourite team, but has anyone ever proved it?

In the first study of its kind, BetVictor have partnered with researchers at the University of Leeds to understand the physiological and psychological effects of watching football, to understand what really happens when you watch the beautiful game.

This is Your Body on Football.


To find out the true effects of what watching football does to the body, we commissioned human biology and psychology researchers from the University of Leeds to follow Leeds football fans across three key games in their 2019 promotion race.

  • Brentford vs. Leeds United – 22nd April
  • Derby vs. Leeds United – 11th May (Playoff leg 1)
  • Leeds United vs. Derby – 15th May (Playoff leg 2)

We analysed a total of 25 Leeds United fans of ages ranging from 20 - 62 years old (average age – 22 years old).

Participants for Match 1 were analysed in outside of a stadium environment, whereas participants for Matches 2 & 3 were analysed whilst watching the game live at each stadium.

For the purposes of displaying the data, we grouped fans by the amount of years they’ve been supporting Leeds; less than 10, 20-30 and 40+.

What did we track?

We tracked three key factors as part of our study; heart rate, blood pressure and mood. Participants wore heart rate monitors throughout the duration of each game (graphs of which can be found below).

Blood pressure was taken a couple of days before each match to give a base rate, immediately before the match, at half time and then immediately following the final whistle. Participants were also served a mood survey and interviewed after each match to form part of our psychological analysis.

Our key findings

Participants saw a clearly elevated heartrate throughout the duration of the games, both when viewed in a control setting and in a stadium environment. On average, participants’ heart rates increased 17% vs. base rate when they were watching the game. This jumped to 29% for game three (Leeds vs. Derby) in the stadium environment.

Overall heartrate increased to as much as 130 BPM for some participants throughout the course of the game (64% up on the average base rate). This is known as “positive stress” and is a cardiovascular workout akin to a 90-minute brisk walk. This indicates that, contrary to fans’ beliefs, watching a football game is actually good for your health.

When a goal was scored, we saw an increase in heart rate of 24% on average. A Leeds goal produced an increase of 27%, whereas an opposition goal lead to an increase of 22% on average. This is line with findings from similar research.

Fans mostly saw blood pressure spikes immediately before the game and during half time. The highest blood pressure readings were 162 over 78, recorded amongst fans of more than forty years during the first leg of the Leeds vs. Derby play-offs.

Winning a match was found to lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety, whereas losing a match raised it.

Psychologically, it was clear that games had a “significant” impact on fans mood. Researchers noticed a clear period of low mood that extended for days following a loss, however the euphoria experienced after a win was much more fleeting, lasting only around 24 hours.

What the expert said

It was clear that fans were passionate about the game with heart rate elevated during the match to a similar level to that when going for a brisk walk (generally 20% higher than resting heart rate).

A goal for either team caused a brief increase in heart rate of an average of 20bpm from the match average.

Fans also experienced anxiety pre, during and post the game. A win resulted in a dip in blood pressure and euphoria with an increase in positive mood and excitement. A loss however resulted in an increase in anxiety, demonstrated by an elevation in post-match blood pressure and a slump in mood positivity. Ultimately supporting your team at a football match gives you a moderate cardiovascular workout and depending on the result of the match a psychological boost or slump.

Dr Andrea Utley - Reader in Motor Control and Development

The data

Our study found that watching football (both in the stadiums and controlled environment) had a moderate impact on blood pressure. We found that watching the team you support win has a positive impact in lowering blood pressure, whereas watching the team you support lose increases blood pressure; This is line with similar research by Elder et al (1991).

  • Heart Rate
  • Blood Pressure

Match {{i}}

{{matches[i-1].home}} v {{matches[i-1].away}}


  • Leeds fan -10 years
  • Leeds fan 20-30 years
  • Leeds fan 40+ years
  • Filter by:
  • Goals
  • Shots
  • Yellow cards
  • Red cards
  • Freekick
  • Substitute

The psychology of fans

In order to gauge the psychological effects of watching football, fans filled out a short survey followed by a focus group before, during and after each game. Fans answered a wide range of questions, and their answers were grouped into five core emotional ‘scores’ for each game: anxiety, dejections, excitement, anger, happiness.

Emotional Survey

As expected, negative emotions prevailed when Leeds lost, with dejection peaking in match 1 (following the news promotion wasn’t guaranteed). Interestingly, anxiety and excitement correlated closely for the following two games, scoring 2 and 3 respectively for leg 1 and 2.

Even despite a loss in match 3 (meaning there was no chance of promotion), Leeds fans registered a significant amount of happiness in the shared achievement of their team throughout the course of the season. Some fans were actually relieved Leeds hadn’t been promoted, as it was perceived to be safer to remain in the championship.

Focus Groups

In addition to the psychological survey, psychologies identified six key themes that recurred heavily throughout each focus group:




Fan Quotes



Our psychologist said...

The impact on supporters of in terms of mood was significant. Supporters reported enhanced mood and positivity after watching a victory. Ultimately, the enjoyment of viewing a sporting event is a function of the outcome of the game. However the negativity and depression after the team had lost was more long term. It is clear that a negative mood state occurs after a loss that can remain for days after the defeat. The impact that this has on the individual and those around them can be massive resulting in low mood, depression and in some case violent behaviour.