Can Exercise Protect You from Hearing Loss – The Surprising Connection

Can Exercise Protect You from Hearing Loss - The Surprising Connection
Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

Hearing loss can be a frustrating and isolating experience. It can affect your ability to communicate, enjoy music and nature, and feel safe in your environment. It can also increase your risk of cognitive decline, depression, and falls. That’s why it’s important to take care of your hearing health as early as possible, and to consider all the factors that can affect it. One of those factors, surprisingly, is exercise.

Yes, you read that right. Exercise, the physical activity that benefits your heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and brain, may also benefit your ears. How? Let’s explore the link between exercise and hearing loss, the types of exercise that may help, and the other lifestyle factors that can affect hearing health.

The Link Between Exercise and Hearing Loss

The connection between exercise and hearing loss has been studied in both animals and humans. For example, a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Neuroscience found that mice who exercised on a running wheel for two months had better hearing, lower inflammation, and more neurotrophins (proteins that support the growth and survival of neurons) in their auditory system than sedentary mice. Another study published in 2020 in the Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research found that older adults who engaged in regular physical activity had better speech-in-noise perception (the ability to understand speech in a noisy environment) than their less active peers.

While these studies don’t prove causation, they suggest that exercise may have a protective effect on the auditory system. But why? One theory is that exercise increases blood flow and oxygenation to the cochlea, the spiral-shaped organ in the inner ear that converts sound vibrations into nerve impulses. This may help the hair cells and neurons in the cochlea to function better and resist damage from noise exposure, aging, or other insults. Another theory is that exercise reduces inflammation and oxidative stress, two processes that can damage the auditory system and contribute to hearing loss.

Types of Exercise That May Benefit Hearing Health

So, what types of exercise should you do to protect your hearing? The short answer is: any exercise that you enjoy and can sustain over time. The long answer is: different types of exercise may have different effects on hearing health, depending on their intensity, duration, frequency, and mode.

Cardiovascular exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, dancing, or aerobics, is known to improve blood flow, oxygenation, and metabolic health, and to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. These benefits may translate into better hearing health, as suggested by some studies. 

Resistance training, such as lifting weights, doing push-ups, or using resistance bands, is known to build muscle mass, strength, and bone density, and to improve metabolic health and mobility. While resistance training may not have direct benefits on hearing health, it can indirectly support it by reducing the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which are all risk factors for hearing loss. 

Yoga and other relaxation techniques, such as meditation, tai chi, or qigong, are known to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and to improve mood, sleep, and cognitive function. While the link between stress and hearing loss is not yet clear, some studies have suggested that chronic stress may contribute to hearing damage by increasing cortisol levels and reducing blood flow to the ears. 

Other Lifestyle Factors That Affect Hearing Health

Exercise is not the only factor that can affect hearing health. Other lifestyle factors, such as diet, smoking, and noise exposure, can also play a role. For example, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein may provide antioxidants and other nutrients that can protect the auditory system from oxidative stress and inflammation. 

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke have been linked to a higher risk of hearing loss, possibly due to their harmful effects on blood vessels and nerves. Therefore, quitting smoking or avoiding exposure to smoke can not only benefit your lungs and heart, but also your ears.

Finally, exposure to loud noise is one of the most common causes of hearing loss, especially in occupational settings such as construction, manufacturing, and entertainment. Therefore, it’s important to protect your ears from excessive noise by wearing earplugs or earmuffs, reducing the volume of music or other sounds, and taking breaks from noisy environments.

If you’re experiencing hearing loss or other hearing-related issues, don’t hesitate to visit our hearing practice. We offer a range of services and treatments that can help you improve your hearing, communication, and quality of life. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards better hearing health.

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