Being a new New Yorker, I have taken it upon myself to experience many of the city’s trademark events. I’ve navigated the crowds at Occupy Wall Street, the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade and, on Sunday, the NYC Marathon.
After making like a sardine on the 6 train, nearly losing my shoes exiting it and skinning my ankle on a wayward police barrier, I finally made it to the Queensboro Bridge. Even amid enthusiastic shouts of “Welcome to Manhattan!” I found my attention split between the thrilling race and my throbbing ankle.
My bumpy route to the marathon left me wondering about the inequity of it all. These toned and trained bodies glide by on the open road while we race-watchers, crammed onto the narrow sidewalks, risk tetanus – not to mention despair at our relative lethargy. Is there any hope that being a bystander could have health benefits of its own?
Turns out, it does – but barely. According to a National Cancer Institute page that features lists of the Metabolic Equivalent (MET) values for various activities, watching running has a Metabolic Equivalent (MET) value of 1.50. Using the “calories burned calculator” I found online, this means that a 150-pound woman would have to watch running for only an hour to burn 100 calories. However, these same sources also revealed that sleeping for the same amount of time burns approximately 64. Also, the 100 calories assumed that the person involved is sitting at their sporting event; standing – listed in the category “non-food shopping, standing or walking” – moves the MET to 2.30. I’m sure some individuals’ more energetic approaches to sport-spectatorship provide even more caloric benefit. If 100 calories isn’t cutting it, my 150-pound woman could burn 79 more if she used her hour for a game of darts or another 400 if she chose to go for a jog.
So, effortless weight loss may not be in the cards for most grandstand gawkers. Still, there could be other benefits of the mental, rather than physical, variety. One study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008 found that sport fans, along with participants, had better language comprehension skills compared to the people who neither watched nor played. The researchers only looked at one sport, hockey, and the improved comprehension only applied to hockey-related terms. Still, it’s good to know that being a bedraggled bystander may have given me some cerebral advantage.