Do Athletes Have Healthier Brains?

January 21, 2020

We recently came across an interesting article published by CNN Health that suggests athletes have healthier brains, and can actually hear better than non-athletes. The study referenced in the article, which was led by Neurobiologist Nina Kraus, examined the electrical brain activity of elite athletes and non-athletes alike when exposed to noise.

Researchers attached a series of electrodes to the scalps of 495 student-athletes and recorded the electricity their brains produced in response to three separate measurements of sound. The results of the study, which were published in the journal Sports Health, revealed that elite athletes have larger responses to sound than non-athletes, which is driven by a reduction in their level of background neural noise, or static. Dr. Kraus explains:

If your brain was exposed to a rich sound environment…filled with linguistic and musical stimulation, you're more likely to have less neural static."

The results also proved that the benefits of being active and athletic extend far beyond boosting physical, cardiovascular, and mental fitness; physical activity also improves auditory sensory processing. According to Dr. Kraus, playing sports may also play a role in the brain's ability to hear properly:

"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.", she said

In short, playing sports tampers brain static. Dr. Kraus revealed that by studying the electrical responses to sound that happen in the brain after an athlete sustains a concussion, we may be better able to understand and treat symptoms of concussion, as well as determine when that athlete is ready to return to play without further damage to the brain.

The results of this study are in line with what we at Brain Initiative believe that a successful exercise regime is a necessary element of the framework for optimal brain health. Exercise, in addition to proper nutrition, managing stress, getting enough sleep and optimizing cognitive and social activity have been proven to optimize brain health and contribute to overall health and wellness. We suggest adopting an exercise routine that is:

  • Convenient – your program must be easy. If it’s too difficult, you’ll get discouraged.
  • Repeatable – a successful exercise program must be repeatable on a regular basis. Repeatable activities are easy, efficient and ideally enjoyable
  • Successful – you have to see incremental success in what you’re doing. This could be as simple as being able to do nine squats instead of eight or being able to pedal one minute longer than your baseline.
  • Measurable - you should be able to measure how much exercise you’ve done, and your progress should be visible at all times. You might use a whiteboard in your home, a notebook or an app on your smartphone.

There are also specific exercises that are especially beneficial for the brain, including:

  • Aerobic exercise – such as brisk walking, jumping jacks, stairs, dance, martial arts or riding a stationary bike.
  • Strength training – such as squats, lunges, crunches, planks and push-ups.
  • Balance training – such as heal-to-toe walking, single-leg balance, yoga and Tai Chi.
  • Flexibility training – such as stretches, leg extension, bicep and triceps curls and shoulder raises.

For more tips regarding The Team Sherzai NEURO Plan, check out resources such as these and keep an eye out for new blog posts.

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