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Cycling boosts kids' brain power, say researchers

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.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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