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How March Madness Affects Your Health and Sanity

The tickets are punched. The brackets are set. The teams are ready.

March Madness tips off this week, and the ensuing ruckus will be nigh on inescapable for anyone even remotely interested in sports. However, a word of warning to those who would fully embrace March Madness: gird yourself for the commotion. This is because the event lives up to its name; it may actually make you go insane.

All right, that's a slight exaggeration, but March Madness is one of those unique sporting competitions that can actually have a marked effect on a fan's health and sanity. Allow me to elaborate.

Mental Effects

First off, bracket pools have become synonymous with March Madness, allowing everyone to embrace their inner "gambling addict" without too much guilt. The pools also -- in a way -- allow us to embrace our inner "drug addict." That's because the parts of the brain that respond to the prospect of winning and losing in gambling are the same areas that respond to drugs like cocaine and morphine. With this information in mind, it goes without saying that the brains of "bracket poolers" go on a wild ride with each exhilarating win or bracket-busting loss.

While we're on the subject of bracket pools, gamblers beware, getting a little skin in the game may actually lessen your enjoyment of March Madness. A study from Dr. Stephen Nowlis published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that "consumers who make predictions about uncertain events experience

significantly less enjoyment while observing the events than those who

don't make predictions." This held true even for those who bet on the winning team.

Besides gambling's potential effects on your mental state, there is also the ever-present risk that a heartbreaking loss will induce acute situational depression. Fortunately, the effects can usually be alleviated by invoking the "there's always next year" treatment.

How-does-March-Madness-reflect-college-sports-ST13P7JE-x-large.jpg   March Madness also turns you blue? (AP Photo)

Physiological Effects

Watching March Madness as a fan can almost be as stressful as actually competing as a player.

"[Watching a game can prompt] a 300-400 percent increase in blood flow pumped out of the

heart," Vicki Greenberg, nursing program manager for the University of Phoenix told the Phoenix Forward. "Because the heart is pumping more quickly,

and with more force, this increased pressure can cause people with high

blood pressure issues to experience damage to the interior lining of

their blood vessels."

March Madness presents a bounty of tense, exciting moments, and watching these can cause arteries to constrict due to perceived bodily stress. This physiological response can briefly elevate the chance of heart attack or stroke. In fact, a 2002 study conducted in England discovered that risk of hospital admission for acute myocardial infarction increased by 25% on the day England lost to Argentina in penalty kicks at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

For males, heart rates won't be the only thing fluctuating. Numerous studies have shown that sporting events can cause an increase in testosterone levels in fans of the winning team and a decrease in the fans of the losing team.

March Madness is one of the most irresistible and enticing spectacles in all of sports. As its physiological and mental effects make plain, March Madness is more than just a game. Prepare yourself accordingly.