According to a new study out of Northwestern University, playing sports may help your brain better process sounds.

By Nashia Baker
December 09, 2019

By now you know that being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your body, but researchers recently discovered that there are also cognitive benefits associated with being an athlete. After testing both student-athletes and average students last year, Northwestern University neurobiologists found that the more physically active group had healthier brains. The reason? Because of their ability to better hear sound.

"Compared to non-athletes, elite athletes can better process external sounds, such as a teammate yelling a play or a coach calling to them from the sidelines, by tamping down background electrical noise in their brain," said Nina Kraus, lead neurobiologist for the study. According to CNN, this new study, which was published in the Sports Health journal, is exploring how a brain responds to sound after sports concussions. Researchers studied about 495 student-athletes and 495 students of the same age and sex, and attached electrodes to the scalps of the participants in order to record how the brain responded to hearing sound.

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The study is part of an ongoing five-year experiment to help researchers determine when an athlete is healthy enough to compete again without causing more injury to the brain. "As the years go on and we follow the same athlete, we will be better able to understand how their neural noise changes over time, or how it may possibly differ from one sport to another, especially high-contact sports," Kraus said.

The research team also believes the discoveries will create new techniques to help treat people with hearing disorders and concussion-like conditions. "Physical activity seems to track with a quieter nervous system," Kraus said. "If you have a healthier nervous system and brain, you may be able to better handle injury or other health problems."

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