As England prepare for their biggest World Cup tie in decades, nervous and anxious football fans may be surprised to hear that a new survey has found that watching football matches is in fact good for your mental health.
But the twist is that it is beneficial as a memory stimulator for older people – who obviously already know the score.
Professor Alistair Burns, NHS England’s clinical director for dementia, outlined the surprising benefits older people in particular can get from watching classic matches, such as England’s 1966 World Cup final win.
Watching replays of sporting events can improve mental health and wellbeing by keeping the brain active and stimulating memories.
“Although fans may not feel it this week, football can be good for your nerves. The beautiful game really can help your mind and body,” he said.
“As well as being great physical exercise, there is a positive link between watching classic football matches and keeping the mind active.
“For people in old age and dealing with dementia, re-watching matches can rekindle past memories, connect people with their past and keep the brain active.”
His thoughts were echoed by Ben Bano, director of Welcome Me as I Am, who said it was no surprise that watching football can benefit those with dementia as it can stimulate emotion which can be revived many years after the event.
“As dementia advances it is particularly important to provide mental stimulation and a game of football provides an opportunity to remember our earlier experiences, for example through sharing memories of the 1966 World Cup. Football enables us to use our emotional memories as well as focusing on the ‘here and now’,” Mr Bano told The Universe.
“Some time ago I was in a residential home in Liverpool where I joined some elderly gentlemen with dementia cheering on Liverpool on the TV. The excitement was a pleasure to behold, and was enhanced by a picture gallery next to the lounge showing the club teams over the years.”
Prof. Burns pointed out that emotional memory, which is one of two main types of memory in the human brain, can be more powerful than memory for personal events, so as people in later life relive exciting or tense moments it can stimulate memories, potentially strengthening brain activity.
Across the UK, 850,000 people are estimated to live with dementia, while mental ill health affects almost eight million people aged over 55.
Tony Jameson-Allen, co-founder of the Sporting Memories Foundation, which tackles dementia, depression and loneliness, said: “Sport unites communities and generations, it stirs the soul and can reawaken powerful emotions.
“Every week we witness the positive impact recalling golden moments of great sporting moments has on the physical and mental wellbeing of our group members, many of whom live with dementia.”
Picture: Head coach Gareth Southgate of England celebrates victory after the 2018 FIFA World Cup quarter-final match between Sweden and England in Samara, Russia, on 7th July, 2018. England won 2-0 and advanced to the semi-finals. Tonight England face Croatia with the winner advancing to Sunday’s final against France. ( Lu Jinbo/Xinhua News Agency/PA).