Would you give up hockey to avoid a heart attack?

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Much ado is being made today of a study purporting to show that the thrill of a hockey game may be bad for a guy’s heart. I say, is there a better way to go?

The study, published this week in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, studied fans of the Montreal Canadiens and the incidence of heart attacks following a team win.

It found a relationship between the number of heart attacks in men, but not women, after the team won. Heart attacks increased 40 percent in men under 55 after home game wins.

“Our study is the first to evaluate the association between local hockey games and admission rates for acute STEMI. Since the inauguration of the NHL in 1917, the Montreal Canadiens remains the team with the most Stanley Cup wins and is known for its extremely loyal and enthusiastic fan base. This historical role of the city of Montreal might explain in part the association between higher admission rates for STEMI,” said lead investigator Hung Q. Ly, MD, SM, interventional cardiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute, in a press release.

In the study, women were less likely to suffer a STEMI after a hockey game than men, despite the fact that prior research has shown women are more susceptible to mental stress-induced myocardial ischemia. “Previous studies have suggested that unhealthy behavioral changes including increased alcohol consumption, heavy and fatty meals, smoking, drug use, or sleep deprivation may have additive effects on the link between sporting events and increased cardiovascular risk in spectators,” noted Dr. Ly “Notably, among all demographic groups in our study, the highest proportion of obesity, dyslipidemia, and smoking was found in young males, pointing towards an increased risk behavior and unhealthy lifestyle in this subgroup.”

Another interesting finding is that winning games produced more heart attacks than losses. “Indeed, strong emotional response to events has been reported to increase the risk of cardiovascular events. In our study, the fact that game outcomes are likely unknown to the spectator until the end implies that emotional triggers at the end and/or after the match might impose a greater risk for vulnerable populations,” observed the team of investigators. “This hypothesis is further supported by the notion that significant increases in STEMI hospital admissions occurred one day after a game in our study, while no difference in admission rates were observed on match days.”

It suggested behavioral changes could change the outcome here, which is a nice way of saying either stop watching hockey or stop caring about it.

In either case, that brings up an old question: What’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy it?