Muscle strength and stamina can be improved by swearing, a study has suggested. Turning the air blue may help a cyclist struggling up a hill to summon up extra pedal power, while a good dose of foul language might also be what it takes to free a stubborn bolt or jammed bottle top. Psychologists carried out tests in which volunteers had to swear before intense sessions on an exercise bike, or squeezing a device that measures hand grip strength. Researchers found that in both experiments swearing led to significant improvements in performance compared with saying “neutral” words. The study followed up on earlier work that showed swearing increases pain tolerance.
We know from our earlier research that swearing makes people more able to tolerate pain. 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
Dr Richard Stephens, from the University of Keele
In a surprising finding, increases in heart rate and other expected changes linked to the “fight or flight” response were not seen in the latest tests. Dr Stephens added: “Quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered. We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully.” In the first experiment, 29 volunteers with an average age of 21 pedalled hard on an exercise bike for 30 seconds while repeating a swear word or a neutral word. Peak power was increased by an average 24 watts by swearing, the psychologists found.