Exercising while studying can help you learn a language

Exercising while studying can help you learn a language
Exercise and language learning go together. Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Exercise and language learning go together. Wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Both exercise and learning a second language are good for the mind and body. Combine the two, and those long lists of vocabulary may come more easily, a new study suggests.

Researchers divided a group of 40 Chinese men and women who hope to learn English, then asked one group to study vocabulary by looking at words projected onto a screen with matching pictures. The second group also looked at these projected vocabulary words and pictures, but they rode stationery bikes for about 20 minutes before starting and for 15 minutes while simultaneously studying. Scientists then let the language learners rest before testing them, and they repeated this process eight times over the course of two months.

The results were promising: Students who rode bikes generally did better on the vocabulary tests immediately after studying, plus they also got better at recognizing correct sentences than the sedentary studiers did a few weeks into the study. Even weeks after language learners went about their lives without being forced to study, cyclists generally were better at recalling what they learned.

“The results suggest that physical activity during learning improves that learning,” Simone Sulpizio, the study’s co-author and professor of psychology and linguistics at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele, told the New York Times.

Scientists aren’t sure whether results would be the same if people study while doing higher-impact exercise — or other types of working out, for that matter. It might also be difficult to apply their results to an everyday classroom, which is more likely to opt for traditional desks than an exercise bike.

“We are not suggesting that schools or teachers buy lots of bicycles,” she said. “A simpler take-home message may be that instruction should be flanked by physical activity. Sitting for hours and hours without moving is not the best way to learn.”

Next time you go to the gym, perhaps you should give your vocabulary list a whirl.