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Swearing is good for your health, say psychologists

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Forget everything you thought you knew – and specifically what your mother told you – because swearing may actually benefit your health.

Swearing may give an extra boost to muscle strength and stamina to cyclists struggling to summon extra pedal power, new research has found.

Psychologists conducted tests in which volunteers had to swear before intense sessions on an exercise bike, or squeezing a device that measures hand grip strength.

In both experiments the expletives led to significant improvements in performance compared with uttering “neutral” words.

Cyclist
(hannaebarbera/Thinkstock)

The first experiment saw 29 volunteers with an average age of 21 pedal hard on an exercise bike for half a minute while repeating a swear word or a neutral word.

Peak power was increased by an average 24 watts by swearing.

The second experiment involved 52 participants of about the same age undergoing tests of hand grip strength – and again volunteers were asked to swear or use a less emotionally-charged neutral word.

Swearing boosted grip strength by 2.1 kilograms on average.

Participants were invited to use any swear word they would typically utter if suffering a bang on the head.

Hammer
(ca2hill/Thinkstock)

The study followed up earlier work that showed how swearing increases pain tolerance, helping explain the common reaction to hitting one’s thumb with a hammer.

Dr Richard Stephens, from the University of Keele, who led both teams, said: “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.

“If that is the reason, we would expect swearing to make people stronger too, and that is just what we found in these experiments.”

Surprisingly, expected changes linked to the “fight or flight” response – such as an increased heart rate – were not noted 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.”




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