It's important to be vigilant about hearing loss prevention. You should avoid excessively loud environments for prolonged periods of time. You should take precautions when you know you will be in those types of environments to always wear hearing protection. These best practices, while important, are largely reactive, however. A growing body of research suggests a connection between exercise and hearing loss. By practicing these hearing exercises regularly, you can be proactive about protecting yourself from hearing loss as you age.
There are two main components to your sense of hearing: the organs that relay data to the brain and the brain, in turn, organizing those messages into intelligible sound. As we age, our brains tend to slow down―a concept known as “neural slowing.” One side effect of neural slowing is that oftentimes our brains lack the ability to track the faster moving parts of speech. This degraded processing ability is especially heightened in environments with a lot of background noise. A study out of Northwestern University has demonstrated that specialized, auditory-based training for older individuals can help counteract neural slowing and improve the ability to successfully hear, remember, and understand sentences in noisy environment.
Keeping your brain stimulated and active is increasingly important as you age. You should speak to your general practitioner about any sort of serious cognitive training you want to undertake, however there are some easy ways to get started in the meantime. Daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles in your paper or on online apps are a great way to get your brain thinking analytically. Really, any sort of logic puzzles you enjoy could be useful.
Similarly, there are some auditory-specific hearing exercises you can try. In order to help you focus on specific sounds above background noise, try creating an environment where you have to practice just that. Set up noise making devices like a laptop or a tape player in different parts of the room and turn them on. Then have a friend read to you from a book or magazine article. Try to focus only on the words that they are saying. Another fun hearing exercise is trying to locate where sounds are coming from in space. You can do this anytime you hear a noise around you like a bird tweeting or a car horn. Just try to pinpoint where in your environment that distant sound originated from.
One of the most important connections between hearing loss and exercise is in the area of cardiovascular fitness. There are a number of studies, including a decade-long study from Miami University, demonstrating the correlation between cardiovascular and hearing health. In that Miami University study, it was shown that individuals over 50 without a genetic predisposition for hearing loss who participated in regular cardio maintained hearing sensitivity, effectively delaying age-related hearing loss.
So how much cardiovascular exercise should you do? The World Health Organization’s physical activities guidelines for older adults indicates that adults age 65 and up should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week. Alternately, they also suggest 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or a balanced combination of the two would suffice.
One of the best ways to ensure that you are hitting your hearing exercise goals is to find cardiovascular activities you enjoy. Explore different activities like gardening, hiking, swimming, yoga, or cycling that you find fun and are safe for you to do. That way, doing your cardio over the course of a week will feel like less of a chore and more of a thrill.
The more we learn about exercise and hearing loss, the more we understand how closely the two concepts are related. Take your hearing health into your own hands and start your regiment of hearing exercises today.