For many people a trip to a West End show is far preferable to hitting the gym.
So theatregoers will be happy to know that seeing a show has the same effect on the heart as half an hour of healthy cardio exercise.
A study by University College London and the University of Lancaster found audience members reached up to 70 per cent of their maximum heart rate while watching a production of the musical Dreamgirls.
The drama and emotion on stage is credited with the effect, which was similar to that seen in tennis players during rallies.
A live performance is likely to raise the heart rate because of the intensity of sharing an experience with other people in the audience. During the musical, researchers found spectators’ hearts beat at an elevated range for an average of 28 minutes, particularly before the interval and close to the end.
Theatregoers (pictured, Drury Lane, London) will be happy to know that seeing a show has the same effect on the heart as half an hour of healthy cardio exercise
Dr Joseph Devlin, head of experimental psychology at UCL, said: ‘This demonstration paints quite a clear picture that attending a live performance has an impact on cardiovascular activity.’
He added: ‘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. You see comparable changes in heart rate in professional tennis players during burst of highly intense exertion such as long and fast rallies.’
Researchers used heart rate monitors on a couple, two sets of friends and a single group of four attending the theatre.
The elevated heart rates recorded during 28 minutes of the show reached between 50 and 70 per cent of the maximum. This is the level identified by the British Heart Foundation as the optimal heart rate for cardiovascular fitness and stamina.
Dr Devlin said: ‘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.’
Dreamgirls is the story of an all-girl singing group similar to The Shirelles or the Supremes, which sold out last year in London after being revived from the original production 35 years ago on Broadway.
A live performance is likely to raise the heart rate because of the intensity of sharing an experience with other people in the audience, research suggests
The study, a collaboration with theatre ticket provider Encore Tickets, also monitored audience members’ brain activity and other physiological signals.
The authors say heart rate can dip during moments of intense concentration, then rise during emotional moments.
They state: ‘Not only is a theatre goer in the physical presence of the performers, but they are surrounded by other people, also in the same emotional state. One hypothesis is that this social context to the experience endows an emotional intensity.
‘This shared social context is not found with the solitary experience of a book or TV show, but does occur during live performance, witnessing sporting events and taking part in rituals and religious ceremonies.’