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For fans, World Series is a marathon, not a sprint

Posted By Michael Craig Miller, M.D. On October 23, 2013 @ 4:09 pm In Exercise and Fitness,Health,Healthy Eating,Sleep,Stress | Comments Disabled

Millions of baseball fans will tune in tonight for the opening game of the World Series. Boston Red Sox versus St. Louis Cardinals. Sportswriters are saying it will be an interesting series between two well-matched teams.

Football fans have it easy. They have to sit through just one big game to decide the year’s champion. For us baseball fans, it could take seven games spread over nine days to determine this year’s champion. (Or it could be just four games over five days, as happened in 2004 when the Red Sox swept the Cardinals.)

That means fans need to approach the series as a marathon, not a sprint. Here are a few suggestions for getting through the Series with your physical and emotional health intact.

Sleep: All seven games are scheduled to start around 8:00 pm Eastern Time. That could make for some late nights. If you have a chance to take a nap on game day, go ahead and do it.

Exercise: Physical activity—and I’m not talking about adjusting the La-Z-Boy or opening a bottle of beer—is a good way to get rid of pre-game jitters. A 20- or 30-minute walk, run, swim, or whatever can help you relax. It’s also good for blood pressure, which can climb high during a stressful game.

Food: The gluttony of Super Bowl Sunday is almost acceptable because it’s a one-day feast. But doing that night after night can give you heartburn and affect your weight. If you routinely snack while watching baseball, try some healthier alternatives to chips and sour-cream dip. Examples include whole-wheat crackers and hummus or guacamole, dried fruits and nuts, or celery and carrot sticks.

Alcohol: If you drink, keep it moderate. Being sleep deprived and hung over for up to nine days isn’t good for your health, and certainly won’t endear you to your family members or coworkers (although some of them may be in the same boat).

Emotions: Some people can watch a World Series game dispassionately. I’m not one of them. As a Red Sox fan, my mood goes up and down with the team’s success. The anxiety that fans like me have is actually rooted in evolution. The human body reacts to a threat—physical or emotional—with the “fight or flight” response. The adrenal glands pump the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream. It causes the heart to beat faster than normal. Blood pressure rises. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Blood sugar (glucose) and fats are released into the bloodstream from storage sites in the body.

That makes sense when the threat is short-lived. But when it lasts for several hours, or several days, this stress response can be harmful. If you find yourself getting stressed, breathing deeply and slowly for a minute or two while saying a relaxing word like “win” can help.

Who knows why we get so caught up in our teams’ fortunes? Evolutionary biologists would tell us that the impulse to identify strongly with a group evolved because our survival depended on it. “Defend your tribe” has morphed into being true to your team. This can sometimes drive us to watch games anxiously, even angrily. Once you’re in that frame of mind, it’s hard to find the pleasure in it.

I have come to recognize that I enjoy watching games more when one of my teams is not on the field. I appreciate the talent and the spectacle. And I am sometimes rewarded with a satisfying, live drama.

Maybe we fans can approach this series with that kind of appreciation. The Red Sox and Cardinals are two very likable teams. Commentators point out that these guys play the game the “right way.” The players themselves say it’s going to be fun.

Let’s see if we can remember that baseball is a game. This World Series should be fun to watch. So whoever you’re rooting for, have fun watching.

Related Information: Harvard Health Letter

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