Playing sports may quiet the brain and boost its ability to process sounds, according to a study of college athletes. 

Sports “tune” the brain, much like tuning a radio to better hear a DJ’s voice, said study senior author Nina Kraus, Ph.D., from Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois.

Kraus and colleagues studied nearly 500 student athletes alongside a control group of age- and sex-matched non-athletes. While listening to speech sounds, the athletes were better able to tune out background noise than their non-athlete peers. 

“Think of background electrical noise in the brain like static on the radio,” Kraus explained in a statement. “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.”

A serious commitment to physical activity may help quiet the nervous system, theorized Kraus. This in turn helps the brain to better understand its sensory environment, she said.

The findings could lead to new therapies for people with hearing struggles, the researchers concluded.

The study was published on Monday in the journal Sports Health.