If you have a hard time hearing your loved ones in a crowded room with background noise, it might be time to take up tennis.
Tennis, of course, is much better for your ears than a crowded restaurant where background noises commonly reach levels of 80 decibels or higher. But its effect may have nothing to do with the sounds at all. Instead, the mere act of playing a sport may help improve hearing.
Playing sports can have a significant impact on physical fitness, but new research is showing it may help with hearing, and thereby comprehension. The study appeared recently in the journal Sports Health.
Researchers from Northwestern University studied whether playing sports could tune the brain to achieve a better understanding of people’s sensory environment. Four-hundred and ninety-five female and male student-athletes participated, as did an additional 493 non-athletes to act as a control. Each participant was required to wear earbuds that delivered speech sounds as their brains were monitored. Athletes were more adept than the non-athletes to tune out the background noise and better process the sounds from the earbuds.
The lead researcher suggests that athletes may be able to tune out background noise more effectively, indicating that, “a serious commitment to physical activity seems to track with a quieter nervous system.” The idea is that sports-related therapies may be able to help people better handle illness, injury, or chronic health problems.
Stroke sufferers, for example, can experience auditory processing disorders that make it hard to hear in crowded places. The same goes for people with degenerative conditions with multiple sclerosis.
It’s possible that increasing physical fitness may even help keep hearing intact with age. Previous studies have indicated that long-term exercise can prevent inflammation that damages hearing, while one study found that people who have better cardiovascular health tend to have better hearing than those in bad shape.
However, there might be some caveats to physical activity and hearing. One is that you should avoid listening to loud music while exercising. The other is to avoid exercise that is too strenuous, as there is some evidence suggesting that straining too hard during exercise can lead to hearing troubles.
If you’re looking to maintain or improve hearing, boosting activity is worth consideration. You’ll get all the physical benefits of exercise too!