How Exercise, Diet, Sleep, and Hearing Affect Brain Aging

How Exercise, Diet, Sleep, and Hearing Affect Brain Aging

Bary E. Williams Au.D. Uncategorized

As we age, the body naturally experiences physical and cognitive changes. Changes to the brain over time can impact critical thinking, memory, and decision-making abilities which can become less flexible.  There are various factors that impact the aging of the brain including: diet, sleep, and hearing. Research shows that our relationship to these lifestyle factors and hearing health actually promotes brain health and reduces the risk of developing cognitive conditions. 

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including existing medical conditions, genetic history, environmental exposure to loud noise, and aging. This results in a reduced ability to hear and process sound, producing a range of symptoms that can really impact health. Untreated hearing loss can contribute to the development of other medical conditions including dementia, impacting brain health. Dementia is an umbrella term that refers to a group of permanent medical conditions that are characterized by cognitive decline. Caused by damage to brain cells, dementia disrupts the ability of these cells to communicate with each other which impacts various cognitive functions – critically think, remember, problem solve etc. There are different types of dementia, the most common type is Alzheimer’s. 

In a significant 2019 Study, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, investigated the relationship between dementia and hearing loss: 

  • Study: researchers analyzed data from an 8-year health study which included 10,000 participants, ages 62 and older. 
  • Findings: cognitive decline was: 
    • 30% higher among people with mild hearing loss 
    • 42% higher among people with moderate hearing loss 
    • 54% higher among people with severe hearing loss 

The statistics show that people with hearing loss were more likely to experience cognitive decline and the degree of hearing loss increased the risk of cognitive decline. Researchers suggest that this correlation can be caused by cognitive overload, social withdrawal, or brain atrophy.

Diet & Hearing

Eating a well-balanced diet supports a robust immune system and healthy blood flow which prevent (or delay) the development of chronic medical conditions that impact brain health. Several studies and research show that a healthy diet does in fact have a positive impact on hearing health and brain function. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers looked at diet and hearing health. This study included 3,135 participants who had their hearing assessed and whose dietary information (spanning 20 years) was collected. Researchers found that people who were closely following healthy diets were: 

  • 30% less likely to develop mid frequency hearing loss 
  • 25% less likely to develop high frequency hearing loss 

The dietary patterns followed by participants who experienced a reduced risk of hearing loss emphasized plant-based foods that are rich in the vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fibers that keep the body energized and healthy. Key characteristics include:   

  • increased intakes of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains
  • limited intakes of dairy and meat 
  • eliminating processed foods (oils, sugars, grains etc.) 

This study in addition to extensive research shows the link between a healthy diet and reduced risk of hearing loss. It also shows that there are things we can change to prevent or delay the progression of hearing loss. This also reduces the risk of cognitive decline and enhances brain function and health. 

Sleep & Hearing Loss

Adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. However, an estimated 35% of adults are receiving less than 7 hours of sleep. According to the American Sleep Association: 

  • 50-70 million adults in the U.S. have a sleep disorder 
  • 37% of people between the ages of 20-39 report short sleep duration
    • 40% for adults ages 40-59

Two of the most common sleep disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea which describe difficulty of initiating and/or maintaining sleep. Sleep disorders are often linked to medical conditions such as hearing loss, obesity, and high blood pressure. These conditions produce inflammation, impact blood flow, arteries etc. This can contribute to the development of other medical conditions and impact overall brain health. 

Fortunately, these are factors that are modifiable! By eating a balanced diet, receiving quality sleep, and exercising, you can support your hearing and brain health! Another great way to support your brain is to have an annual hearing test. Contact us today to learn more. 

Bary E. Williams Au.D.
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