@Carl Boisson
Amnesty Sports: Freedom Papers
3 min readDec 10, 2019


Listening to The Brain

The world’s greatest athletes follow rigorous training regimens to build strength and endurance to put on the electrifying performances that get fans wondering ‘how do they do that’? Legend has it that Lakers superstar and 3 time NBA champion Lebron James, spends about $1.5 million a year on his body to achieve the peak performance from his 6'9 250 lbs frame. Not only are our favorite athletes developing action-figure physiques to chase world championships and Olympic glory, but new research also suggests athletes are ‘strengthening’ their brains through sport. It turns out sports help our brains listen better!

Photo by Freddie Collins

At Northwestern University’s “Brainvolts” lab, neurobiologist Nina Kraus is doing some remarkable research highlighting this new benefit to physical activity. According to Kraus, the brain is constantly seeking to absorb new information and a type of erratic “neural static” results when that stimulus is lacking. Auditory stimulation, such as language and music, results in a notable decrease in this type of brain noise. Brains that develop in environments with less auditory stimulation tend to be “noisier”.

“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,”-Nina Kraus

Photo by Jeffrey F Lin

Playing sports seems to play a role in quieting this background noise which actually allows the brain to process outside sound better. By recording the brain’s electrical activity in response to auditory stimuli, her research has found that elite athletes actually have less neural static than non-athletes. While non-athletic measures can be taken to improve hearing such as learning new languages or playing new instruments, these methods improve the clarity of the signals but, do little in the way of dampening the background noise of neural static the way sports seem to.

“A serious commitment to physical activity seems to track with a quieter nervous system”

Study’s Impact

As if we needed another reason to stay physically active, this research will hopefully motivate more people around the world to use sports to develop healthier nervous systems in addition to physical fitness. Even if you’re not an athlete, you can benefit from a quieter brain. Adding even the most basic of fitness regimens to your weekly grind can go a long way in quieting the internal distractions.

Photo by Sergio Pedemonte

The implications of the research are far reaching. In addition to new insights in the detection and treatment of sports-related concussions, the finding can lead to athletic therapies for those dealing with auditory processing impairments. Also, those in low-income communities tend to have “excessively noisy” brains likely due to a lack of the stimulus our grey matter craves. The new findings can be helpful in crafting better community improvement initiatives centered around athletics.

Krizman, J., Lindley, T., Bonacina, S., Colegrove, D., White-Schwoch, T., & Kraus, N. (2019). Play Sports for a Quieter Brain: Evidence From Division I Collegiate Athletes. Sports Health. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738119892275