Looking To "Quiet" Your Brain? Consider Sports, Says New Study

mbg Editorial Assistant By Christina Coughlin
mbg Editorial Assistant
Christina Coughlin is an editorial assistant at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Georgetown University in 2019 with a degree in psychology and music.
Looking To "Quiet" Your Brain? Consider Sports, Says New Study

Image by Audrey Shtecinjo / Stocksy

We live in a busy world. Whether it's music blaring on the street or cellphones buzzing nonstop, sometimes it can be nice to get a break and have some peace and quiet. But have you ever thought about your brain itself being quiet? A new study at Northwestern University found that student athletes are more likely to be able to calm the noises in their brains compared to other students. 

Researchers studied sound responses in 988 college students, half of which were student athletes. A variety of sounds were played for them through earphones while researchers monitored brain activity through electrodes.

The study found that overall, student athletes were better able to quiet the external noise of their brain to focus and respond to the noises playing through the earphones.

Lead researcher Nina Kraus, Ph.D., explains the study with an analogy of listening to a voice on the radio. "Think of background electrical noise in the brain like static on the radio," Kraus said. "There are two ways to hear the DJ better: minimize the static or boost the DJ's voice. We found that athlete brains minimize the background 'static' to hear the 'DJ' better."

The results of the study were a bit of a surprise to researchers. "No one would argue against the fact that sports lead to better [physical] fitness, but we don't always think of brain fitness and sports," says Kraus. 

Based on these findings, the authors of the study suggest future research on sports-related brain injuries like concussions and how this newfound "quietness" of the brain may affect those injuries. 

This research serves as a reminder that the benefits of fitness can be reaped beyond just the physical sense and affect the mind as well. Staying active supports our well-being in so many ways. It also emphasizes the importance of mental fitness, as the brain is an essential part of our body that should be exercised, too.

Take some time this holiday season to quiet your brain by meditating, practicing yoga, or doing whatever you need to do to relax.

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