Regularly watching sports can change parts of the brain linked to reward, demonstrating how this activity could boost wellbeing, scientists have said.

Researchers from Waseda University in Japan carried out a series of studies to attempt to plug the gap in evidence when it comes to the relationship between watching sports and wellbeing.

The most ground-breaking findings were seen when they used MRI neuroimaging to examine changes in brain activity when participants watched sports.

The team found that viewing sports prompted activation in the brain’s rewards circuits, suggesting happiness or pleasure.

A further finding was that people who watched sports regularly had greater grey matter volume in areas of the brain linked to reward circuits, indicating it could slowly bring about changes to brain structure.

Study lead Associate Professor Shintaro Sato, from the university’s Faculty of Sport Sciences, said: “Both subjective and objective measures of wellbeing were found to be positively influenced by engaging in sports viewing.

“By inducing structural changes in the brain’s reward system over time, it fosters long-term benefits for individuals. For those seeking to enhance their overall wellbeing, regularly watching sports, particularly popular ones such as baseball or soccer, can serve as an effective remedy.”

Along with neuroimaging, the researchers also looked at secondary data analysis and self-reports to further the understanding of the link between wellbeing and viewing sports.

In the first element of the study, the team looked at data on the impact of watching sports on around 20,000 people in Japan.

This confirmed a pattern of improved wellbeing linked to this activity.

Another study involved an online survey completed by 208 participants, which saw them watch different sports videos and comment on their wellbeing both before and after. This particular element of the study highlighted how popular sports, such as baseball, had more effect on wellbeing compared to less popular sports, such as golf.

Read the study in full in Sport Management Review.

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