The benefits of both doing sports and learning a foreign language have been known for a long time. While physical activity helps to keep your body fit and happy, acquiring a second (or third, or fourth) language does the same for your brain, keeping your brain younger for longer. What’s more interesting, however, is how exercising can even help you get better at your target language.
So, here’s why you should considering going for a run before opening that grammar chapter you’ve been struggling with.
Exercise Lowers Your Stress Levels
Ever tried cramming for an exam the night before? It doesn’t usually go very well and a lot of that misfortune has to do with your high levels of stress stopping your brain from acquiring new information. Luckily, doing sports has the exact opposite effect. Doing regular exercise lowers your stress hormones and increases endorphins, the effect of which is to help you relax and make you an overall happier person.
An additional benefit is that a relaxed and happy brain is able to handle more incoming info. This is also the reason why taking language classes late in the evening is less beneficial than earlier in the day (results may vary, based on your own internal clock). In the evening, your brain might already be tired from processing information throughout the day and its ability to acquire new knowledge starts to weaken, while early in the day, sleep will have had a rebooting effect and your brain refreshed.
But doing a physical activity, like running or swimming, has a similar effect of lowering your stress levels and making your brain more receptive to new languages.
Sports Teaches You Targeted Practice
There is only one proven way of getting good at anything and that is continuous practice. Although some people might have a “natural talent” (and don’t let this discourage you) for either sports or languages, without practice they will never achieve their full potential.
This is another thing that doing sports and learning your target language have in common – they require prolonged and targeted effort. You won’t become good at football when you practice swimming every day and neither will you succeed in speaking your target language when you focus your efforts on learning every grammar rule.
Instead, you know that if you want to improve your technique in either sports or language, you need to focus on being incrementally better in a specific aspect. In the words of the amazing Bruce Lee, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Improving Your Discipline and Endurance
Everyone who’s ever tried doing long-distance running or any other endurance sport knows the feeling of hitting “the runners’ block”. The exact moment during your exercise when every cell in your body is telling you to give up and stop. And most have also felt the joy of overcoming that block.
This situation is rather comparable to reaching a plateau in your language learning process. This is when you’ve reached a certain (often intermediate) level and stop seeing yourself progress with every lesson. Much like the runners’ block, the learning plateau has a very enthusiasm-sapping effect and needs to be overcome with sheer force of will and discipline.
Conclusion – Lowering Stress, Constant Practice, and Improved Discipline Are the Benefits of Sports
Much like with everything, some people improve quicker in learning a language or doing sports. But this “natural talent” will only take them that far. Dedicating yourself to either physical exercise or learning a language both require similar qualities and are great activities to complement each other. You will need both discipline and targeted practice to get good in either which is also why doing sports will make you into a better language learner (and vice versa).