So, whether you’re a dedicated gym bunny or a casual exerciser, chances are you’ll be fascinated by the results of a new study, which suggests improving your workout could be as simple as uttering a few four-letter words.
In the first experiment, 29 volunteers were asked to pedal as hard as they could on an exercise bike for 30 seconds, once after swearing and once after saying a “neutral” word. Participants were asked to use the swearwords they’d use if, for instance, they banged their head. “Fuck” and “shit” were some common favourites.
The second test measured hand strength. In it, 52 volunteers were told to squeeze a hand grip as hard as they could, after both swearing and saying a neutral word. The order in which they swore or didn’t swear was randomised in both tests.
Far from just expressing our anger or annoyance, the findings suggested the benefits of having a foul mouth extend to our physical performance. The participants on the exercise bikes produced 4.8% more pedal power when they swore (24 watts), and the other group’s hand grip strength increased by 8.2% after swearing, which would have enabled them to lift an extra 2.1kg on average.
However, the researchers don't yet have a clear explanation of the findings, which were presented in Brighton at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference.
Dr Richard Stephens, from the University of Keele, who led the study, said that while the results showed swearing was consistently helpful to participants, the team wasn't yet sure exactly why. "We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain," he said. "A possible reason for this is that it stimulates the body's sympathetic nervous system – that's the system that makes your heart pound when you are in danger," reported EurekAlert.
However, when the team measured heart rate and other metrics that they'd expect to be affected if the sympathetic nervous system was responsible, they didn't find significant changes.
"So quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered," Stephens added. "We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully." Whatever the conclusion turns out to be, the findings are fucking fascinating.