Turning the air blue isn’t generally a good thing, especially when done in places with many people. But a small study conducted by psychologists begs to differ: swearing may actually boost muscle strength and stamina.
Researchers in the United Kingdom did some tests on volunteers who had to swear before completing intense training on an exercise bicycle, or squeezing a device that would measure hand-grip strength, the Belfast Telegraph reports. In both situations, using foul language led to better improvements in performance, compared with just saying “neutral words,” the study says.
This was a follow-up to a previous study that showed how swearing can increase pain tolerance, such as the common reaction that happens when a person accidentally hits their thumb with a hammer.
Dr. Richard Stephen of the University of Keele in Staffordshire says,
We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain.
He adds, “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’re in danger. If that is the reason, we would expect swearing to make people stronger too, and that is just what we found in these experiments.”
In the first test, called the Wingate Test, 29 volunteers who were 21 years old on average, pedaled furiously on an exercise bike for thirty seconds while repeating either a swear word or a neutral word. According to the results, maximum power was achieved by an average of 4.6% increase, or 24 watts, due to swearing, compared to 2.8% in saying neutral words.
In the second test, 53 participants of the same age did hand-drip exercises while uttering either a swear word or a neutral word. Swearing boosted grip strength by an average of 8.2%, or 21 kilos, the research found.
While the researchers were unable to pinpoint the exact cause of how foul language affects physical activity, they theorize that it could be because of what they say is an “I don’t care” mindset when it comes to swearing, according to Phys.org. In turn, this boosts physical exertion, and may even be applied to non-strength tasks like balancing.
The results of the studies will be presented at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference.