Language abilities increased by exercise

With the news media full of attractive young people celebrating their A-level results today, parents of younger kids might be wondering what they can do to improve their chances in a few years’ time. According to a study in the European Journal of Sport Science, riding a bike can improve some types of academic ability.

Michael Duncan of the Coventry University department of Biomolecular and Sports Sciences and Andrew Johnson of the Psychology Research Centre at Bournemouth University looked at the effect of exercise on the academic abilities of 18 youngsters, 9 girls and 9 boys with an average age of just under 10 years old.

The children were tested using the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT 4), which measures the ability to read, understand sentences, spell, and solve arithmetic problems. The test was applied - on separate days - after 20 minutes of rest, 20 minutes on a cycling ergometer at 50% of maximal heart rate reserve (HRR), and 20 minutes on the ergometer at 75% HRR.

Duncan and Johnson found that moderate exercise improved reading and spelling, and there was no additional effect, positive or negative, of more intense exercise on spelling, but the results were unclear for the effect of greater intensity on reading.

Exercise didn’t effect sentence comprehension, but there’s bad news for mathematical ability: both intensity levels impaired arithmetic.

The lesson here then seems to be that if you want your little ’un to be a great writer or journalist, get them on a bike. If you want your offspring to become an accountant or a quant, though, and actually earn enough to keep you in your old age, better stick with chess and XBox.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.