Going to the theatre is like 30 minutes of cardio, with theatre audiences feeling synchronising heart beats

A study from University College London, University of Lancaster and Encore Tickets examines the heart rates, brain activity, and other physiological signals of theatregoers during a live performance of Dreamgirls.

Findings reveal watching live theatre produces the same heart activity as half an hour of cardio and that the heart rates of audience members synchronise.

The research, conducted by neuroscientists from University College London and the University of Lancaster in association with Encore Tickets, 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.

The study found that watching a live theatre performance stimulates your cardiovascular system to the same extent as doing 28 minutes of healthy cardio exercise.

During the performance of Dreamgirls, 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 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 come 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.

Interestingly, the study also found that live entertainment causes your heartbeat to synchronise with other audience members as the group’s pulses sped up and slowed down at the same rate as each other.

Scientists have found that when an environment makes people synchronise their bodies with each other, it can cause them to bond and in turn like each other more. This suggests that going to the theatre can connect individuals on a deeper level, enhancing social bonds between people more powerfully than previously thought.

Devlin says “Usually, a group of individuals will each have their own heart rates and rhythms, with little relationship to each other. But during experiences with heightened levels of emotion, people’s heart beats can become synchronised, which in itself is astounding.”

Devlin adds “Experiencing the live theatre performance was extraordinary enough to overcome group differences and produce a common physiological experience in the audience members.”

Originally published on

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