The Strange Way Swearing Boosts Your Health

The Strange Way Swearing Boosts Your Health


Ever since we were kids, people have been telling us not to swear. They’ve said it makes us look stupid, angry, and/or disrespectful. They’ve also said to cover them up with nicer sounding words, instead.

However, what people rarely tell you is how swearing can actually benefit your health. That’s right – firing off that four-letter expletive might be doing more for you than just shocking your kids.

So how on earth can saying things were taught NOT to say help out our health?

And, furthermore, is this in every circumstance? Or just in specific environments? After all, most of us probably shouldn’t start spouting curse words at our boss (even if we do dislike him/her).

Thankfully, Medical News Today has the answers. According to MNT:

Although swearing is little more than an amusing aside to most people, it has been shown to have medical importance; it appears as part of a range of conditions.

For instance, excessive swearing can occur with traumatic brain injury and depression in the elderly. It is also associated with dementia and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Most famously, perhaps, the use of swear words and other taboo phrases is a common component of Tourette syndrome.

For these reasons and more, many researchers take an interest in swearing and its potential physiological effects. As an example, a study published in 2009 found that swearing increased participants’ ability to tolerate pain. Another study from 2011 found that swearing could increase people’s ability to tolerate cold.

Why should this be so? The main theory is that, by swearing, we trigger our “fight or flight” response, which, in turn, reduces sensations of pain.

Swearing makes you strong

In the latest research to examine swearing, a team of scientists looked at what effect it might have on strength and during physical exertion.

Led by Dr. Richard Stephens, senior lecturer in psychology at Keele, the experiment had a two-pronged design: in the first arm of the experiment, 29 participants (aged 21 on average) endured a short but intense burst of activity on an exercise bike. Each participant had two run-throughs. In one, they were asked to repeat a swear word out loud, and during the other, they repeated a neutral word.

In the second portion of the study, 52 participants (aged 19.1 on average) carried out an isometric handgrip test. Each participant completed the test three times while repeating a swear word and three times repeating a neutral word.

Once the data had been analyzed, a clear effect was seen: swearing helped to produce more power in the anaerobic test and gave the participants a stronger grip.

Specifically, while swearing during the cycling exercise, peak power was increased by 24 watts, without increasing the perceived level of exertion. In the handgrip trial, swearing increased grip strength by an average of 2.1 kilograms.

How swearing might improve strength

The results of this innovative study were presented recently at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton, U.K.

Although the findings might seem surprising, they back up conclusions from previous experiments conducted by the same group.

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

Stimulating the sympathetic nervous system would have the effect of increasing strength, too, as the team found. However, if the sympathetic nervous system was behind the increases in strength, there would be other changes that the researchers would expect to see – for example, in heart rate variability, skin conductance, and blood pressure. Contrary to expectations, changes in these parameters were not observed in the current study.

This leaves the team with further questions to answer in future research. “So quite why it is that swearing has these effects on strength and pain tolerance remains to be discovered,” Dr. Stephens says. “We have yet to understand the power of swearing fully.”

Well there you have it. Contrary to popular belief, swearing isn’t just a nasty habit that many of us have picked up on. In fact, in some cases, it can actually be good for us!

Now does this mean that we should start spewing F-words as we walk down the sidewalk or down the hallway at the office? Probably not. After all, we do want to appear presentable, professional, and, most of all, sane.

However, by remembering this little tidbit, both men and women can feel a little stronger during their next physical workout routine.

By muttering a curse word softly, exercisers can actually feel better and become a little stronger when doing it. And that’s something we can all appreciate.