The social interaction offered by attending live sports improves wellbeing and the sense that “life is worthwhile”, new research has found.

It is the first large-scale study to examine the benefits of going along to any type of sports events.

The positive findings have prompted the study authors to say their research could help to shape future health policies, such as cheaper tickets for certain groups of people.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University’s School of Psychology and Sport Science looked at data from just over 7,200 people aged from 16 to 85 who answered questions in the government’s Taking Part Survey.

They found that people who went along to a sports event recorded higher scores in two major wellbeing measures – life satisfaction and a sense of ‘life being worthwhile’. They also reported lower rates of loneliness.

The increase in ‘life is worthwhile’ score was found to be equivalent to that of gaining employment.

These life satisfaction score have in previous studies been linked to better health and lower mortality rates.

Lead author Dr Helen Keyes said: “Previous research has focused on specific sports or small population samples, such as college students in the United States. Ours is the first study to look at the benefits of attending any sporting event across an adult population, and therefore our findings could be useful for shaping future public health strategies, such as offering reduced ticket prices for certain groups.

“The live events covered by the survey ranged from free amateur events, such as watching village sports teams, right through to Premier League football matches. Therefore, further research needs to be carried out to see if these benefits are more pronounced for elite level sport, or are more closely linked to supporting a specific team.

“However, we do know that watching live sport of all types provides many opportunities for social interaction and this helps to forge group identity and belonging, which in turn mitigates loneliness and boosts levels of wellbeing.”

Read the full study in Frontiers in Public Health.

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