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Exercise May Be the Key to Helping You Better Learn a New Language

Dragging yourself to the gym every other morning at 7 am may seem like a complete drag, but you do it because you know it’s good for you! Similarly, learning a new language is great for your brain, but there are still days where you’d rather curl up under a blanket with a plate of brownies and veg out to your favourite Netflix show instead of tackling your grammar books.

But what if you could kill two birds with one stone: exercise and better learn a new language? And what if exercise could actually help you to retain your Chinese grammar and vocab a lot better? Read on to find out if exercise really is the key to better language learning!

Why Exercise & Study


A number of studies done in recent years, with both animals and humans, have shown that one of the major benefits of exercise is that it helps alter the biology of the brain in manners that make it more malleable to learning.

Research showed that lab rats that had access to a running wheel were much better at creating and maintaining memories as opposed to more sedentary counterparts. And in humans, studies show that students that participate in some form of physical activity every day consistently do better on academic tests!

This leads scientists to believe that if you exercise frequently, you’ll have an easier time grasping new concepts and information, meaning that memorising and retaining the grammar and vocab of a foreign language can actually be made simpler.


Research: What's the Best Time to Work Out & Learn?


But before you jump on the treadmill and start trying to memorise lists of vocab while running, let’s take a look at when exercise is the most beneficial to learning. Is it best to do it before, during, or after?

While a lot of questions still remain in this regard, scientists have carried out studies trying to determine if exercising while learning is the best way to go. In a particularly compelling study, researchers divided Chinese students trying to learn English into two groups: one would learn English vocabulary the typical way, seated at a desk, while the other would ride stationary bicycles, beginning 20 minutes before the class started and continuing throughout the entirety of the lesson.

Photo via Flickr

The Results


The mode of instruction was the same for both groups, but the outcomes drastically different. The students carried out these types of lessons for two months, and after every single lesson, were asked to do a vocabulary quiz as well as take a short exam in which they were required to recognise if new words made sense in sentences (for example, understanding that “The doctor is a cucumber” isn’t a comprehensive sentence).

It was discovered that the students who were active during the lessons did better on vocabulary quizzes and, after several weeks of instruction, were more capable of making out proper sentences than those who were sedentary. Perhaps most fascinating of all were the long-term effects of exercise and language learning.

When researchers asked the students to return for a final round of testing following a month-long break in which they didn’t practice English, the cyclists remembered words and proper sentences more accurately than those that had learned while sitting.

While these breakthroughs are definitely exciting, scientists are still not quite sure what exactly happens in the brain during exercise that leads to better memorisation and comprehension. What they do know is that exercise causes neurochemicals to be released into your brain and this, in turn, creates new brain cells and connections between neurons-increasing the mind’s plasticity. The consensus seems pretty clear: exercise + language learning = great results!

Although you probably won’t be finding cycling/language fusion classes anytime soon, it can’t hurt to hit the gym a couple of times a week, just to increase your chances of being able to learn faster, better, and remember for longer! And you can always give fitness and language learning a try on your own; tackle that grammar and vocab while cycling, jogging, or doing some other form of exercise at home. Let us know how it goes!

Do you think you’d like to give learning a language while exercising a try? Do you have any creative ideas for how to combine language and fitness? Share a few of your ideas with us below!