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Avoiding stress during a big game: Advice from a cardiologist

Dr. Geoffrey Rose is the chief of cardiology at Carolinas HealthCare System. He knows from experience the emotional stress involved in watching a sports event can be significant.

“The big game is a stress test,” Rose said. “One of my patients had a cardiac arrest at a Panthers game several years ago. He was resuscitated by a medical team there and is doing fine. But it can and does happen.”

Rose pointed to a study done about German soccer fans before, during and after the 2006 World Cup, which was held in Germany. The study showed an increase in cardiac-related episodes for fans during the event.

And there is anecdotal evidence stretching back for decades. In 1975, NFL quarterback Fran Tarkenton’s father – Dallas Tarkenton, a minister – died in Georgia of a heart attack while watching his son play on TV. The elder Tarkenton passed away a few minutes before Dallas quarterback Roger Staubach threw a Hail Mary pass to beat his son’s Minnesota team.

So what would be some of Rose’s top recommendations for fans who are getting stressed out about the Panthers or another favorite sports squad?

1. Frequent exercise. Ideally, do it five times a week for 30 minutes a session. “People who are exercising regularly reduce risk of abrupt sudden death,” Rose said. “It is extremely important.”

2. Relaxation. “Try not to take these games as seriously as we tend to do,” Rose said. “Deep breathing helps. You want to avoid a heated reaction.”

3. Walking away. As tough as it can be to do, Rose said sometimes you have to walk away from the TV or the seat at the game if you are getting too hot and bothered.

“If you were running and you had chest pain, you would stop running,” Rose said. “So if you are exposing yourself to intense emotional stress and you continue to do so, you are putting yourself in harm’s way. You don’t want to do that.”

4. Don’t ignore symptoms. If you do have chest pain or shortness of breath while watching a sports event – even if it goes away – get yourself checked by a doctor quickly. Better safe than sorry.

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