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

How Exercise, Diet, Sleep, and Hearing Affect Brain Aging
Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

“Exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing are four major factors that impact our aging,” said Stephen M. Stahl, MD, PhD, adjunct professor of psychiatry, University of California San Diego during a session at the 2017 Neuroscience Educational Institute (NEI) Congress. Here, we take a look at these four factors and what we can do to stay healthy as we age.

As the Brain Ages

The brain controls many aspects of thinking—remembering, planning and organizing, making decisions, and much more. These cognitive abilities affect how well we do everyday tasks and whether we can live independently. Aging is known to have deleterious effects on cerebral white matter. There is shrinkage of white matter tissue, which may be due to alterations in myelin (demyelination).

“In normal aging, our brains slow down,” said Stahl. “Intelligence remains stable, but we become less mentally flexible. We have longer processing time and declines in motor, sensory, and cognitive abilities.”

The Importance of Exercise as We Age

Stahl, who is also the NEI chairman, first focused on the relationship between exercise and aging. Results found a 32% reduction in risk of dementia for participants who exercised 3 or more times per week compared with those who exercised less than 3 times per week.

As we age, our bodies go through many changes and although we may try, we can’t completely prevent age-related declines, both cognitive and physical. But there’s good news: research suggests that regular physical activity and exercise throughout a person’s life can help slow many age-related functional declines and prevent the onset of diseases related to obesity and sedentary behavior.

A Healthy Diet as We Age

Healthy eating is important at any age, but becomes even more so as we reach midlife and beyond. As you age, eating a healthy diet can help to improve mental acuteness, boost your energy levels, and increase your resistance to illness. Eating well can also be the key to a positive outlook and staying emotionally balanced. No matter your age or your previous eating habits, it’s never too late to change your diet and improve the way you think and feel. Improving your diet now can help you live longer and stronger, sharpen your mind and feel better. 

Healthy Sleep Habits

With aging, sleep patterns tend to change. Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They awaken more often during the night and earlier in the morning. Total sleep time stays the same or is slightly decreased (6.5 to 7 hours per night). It may be harder to fall asleep and you may spend more total time in bed. The transition between sleep and waking up is often abrupt, which makes older people feel like they are a lighter sleeper than when they were younger. Sleep difficulty is an annoying problem. Long-term (chronic) insomnia is a major cause of auto accidents and depression.

Sleep and wake disorders are prevalent in older adults, with ~50% having insomnia and ~50% having sleep disordered breath, said Stahl.

Treating Hearing Loss to Treat Sleep Disorders

Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most of us, as we grow older. It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. Approximately one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 has hearing loss, and nearly half of those older than 75 have difficulty hearing.

Hearing loss is associated with brain atrophy and neurodegeneration, especially in the temporal cortex. Over a 10-year period but treating hearing impairment may lead to cortical restructuring and cognitive improvement, said Stahl.

“Lifestyle behaviors can alter neuroplasticity in detrimental or beneficial ways,” concluded Stahl. “Sleep deprivation can have detrimental effects on aging, treating hearing loss can result in cortical restructuring, and exercise and specific diets may result in delayed cognitive impairment and may preserve brain health.”

Professional Hearing Services

If you suspect you have a hearing loss do not delay treatment any longer.  Putting off treating hearing loss could be disastrous. Contact us at Professional Hearing Services to set up a hearing test and get you back on the road to better hearing and nights of solid sleep.

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