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Heart rates watching West End musical ‘like playing fast tennis rally’, scientists claim

Watching live theatre can stimulate a person's cardiovascular system as much as nearly half an hour of exercise, according to a new scientific study. Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre. Photo: Brinkhoff Mogenburg
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Watching live theatre can stimulate a person’s cardiovascular system as much as nearly half an hour of exercise, according to a new scientific study.

Joseph Devlin, who is head of experimental psychology at University College London and led the research, said the increased heart rate captured when audiences are watching a performance is comparable to that of professional tennis players during a fast rally.

Twelve individuals had their heart rates and brain activity monitored during a live performance of the West End musical Dreamgirls, to determine whether attending theatre has benefits to health and well-being.

During the performance, the heart rates of audience members recorded a higher range than normal, beating at 50% to 70% of a person’s maximum rate for an average of 28 minutes.

The British Heart Foundation identifies this as the optimal heart rate to stimulate cardio fitness and stamina, meaning that audience members spent these 28 minutes engaged in “healthy cardio exercise”.

Researchers claim this effect represents a positive health benefit.

Other studies have found similar effects on people listening to music, however the benefits of watching live theatre have not been explored.

Devlin said: “This demonstration paints quite a clear picture that attending a live performance has an impact on cardiovascular activity.

“By the end of the first act, heart rates nearly doubled from their resting state at the beginning, while in the second act, they tripled.”

The study was carried out by University College London and the University of Lancaster, in association with Encore Tickets.

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