ballet performance

Who would’ve thought you could get fit just by going to the theatre!

Watching a live theatre performance can stimulate your cardiovascular system to the same extent as doing 28 minutes of healthy cardio exercise, a new study has found.

The research, conducted by University College London and the University of Lancaster, monitored the heart rates, brain activity, and other physiological signals of 12 individuals at a live theatre performance of Dreamgirls, the Tony and Olivier award winning musical.

During the performance, the heart rates of audience members spent an average of 28 minutes beating at an elevated range between 50% – 70% of their maximum heart rate.

The British Heart Foundation identify this level of heart rate as the optimal heart rate to stimulate cardio fitness and stamina. So, although they were seated for the performance, audience members spent an average of 28 minutes engaged in healthy cardio exercise.

Dr. Joseph Devlin, Head of Experimental Psychology at University College London, says: “This demonstration paints quite a clear picture that attending a live performance has an impact on cardiovascular activity.”

The study showed that two of the most interesting peaks in heart rate activity comes just before the start of the interval, and at the end of the show.

The soar from a lower heart rate suggesting captivated concentration, to a higher peak of arousal reflects the surge of deep emotion and energy seen on stage.

Dr Joseph Devlin continues: “By the end of the first act, heart rates nearly doubled from their resting state at the beginning, while in the second act, it tripled. You see comparable changes in heart rate in professional tennis players during burst of highly intense exertion such as long and fast rallies.”

Recent advances in wearable technology have allowed scientists to gauge the emotional engagement of groups spectating and participating in performance, ceremony and social interactions.

They can track various physiological signals linked to the autonomic nervous system, which in turn relates to emotion and arousal. These signals can then be averaged across audience members give an indication of the time-course of a shared experience.

Dr. Joseph Devlin, says: “Within the results of the heart rate data from the theatre audience, there was a large dynamic range consistent with the fact that being in a live audience increases the emotional intensity of the experience. The results indicate that the highs and lows of the theatre performance allow for a range of emotions that can stimulate the heart and induce heart rate activity that is parallel to an exerting cardio workout.”