An older couple doing exercise in the park

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

In Brain Health, Cognitive Health, Hearing Loss by Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A

Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A
Latest posts by Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-A (see all)

As many older adults will understand, aging occurs throughout the body, including the brain. Although our intelligence remains the same, our thinking can become less flexible, meaning that our cognitive process slows down, requiring longer processing time for the same mental operations. Although this process occurs inevitably with the aging process, some of our lifestyle behaviors can affect brain health as we get older. A recent report by Stephen M. Stahl, MD, PhD, from the University of California San Diego at the Neuroscience Educational Institute (NEI) Congress detailed the four most important behaviors that can promote brain health as we get older: exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing.

Exercise Promotes Brain Health

Exercise promotes brain health in a number of ways. Both brief moderate to difficult bouts of aerobic exercise, such as running or swimming, as well as long-term moderate bouts of exercise, such as walking and everyday activity, can have a positive effect on our cognitive functioning. Such mental activities such as memory, processing time, and attention can remain strong among those who exercise regularly in either of these ways. Building exercise into our lives either through “workouts” or general activity can be good for our bodies and our hearts, of course, but it may come as a surprise that our brains can benefit from this activity, as well.

Diet Affects Brain Health

Two types of diet were measured in their effects on the brain: the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet. Each of these nutritional plans emphasizes fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and lower intake of red meat and processed foods. Those who follow the DASH diet includes low-fat dairy and is correlated with slower cognitive decline. The Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of olive oil and, believe it or not, wine! The Mediterranean diet is associated with improved cognitive functioning and lower rates of dementia. Each of these diets is delicious and includes a balance of all the food groups, making it an enjoyable way to improve cognition in older age.

Sleep Disorders Affect Brain Health

Sleep disorders such as insomnia affect many older adults, and breathing disorders during sleep can interrupt the process of rest, as well. When the brain does not have an opportunity to rest, a chemical called beta amyloid is deposited in higher does to the brain, leading to cognitive decline. Slow wave deep sleep, otherwise known as Delta sleep, helps to clear this substance. Good sleep habits can help the brain remain healthy, and there are lifestyle changes that will help you get good rest. Maintaining a peaceful sleep environment, clear of noise and distractions, can help, and refraining from using screens prior to sleep helps the brain ease into sleep more easily. A regular sleep schedule can get the brain in the habit of achieving the rest it needs.

Hearing Loss Affects Brain Health

The fourth lifestyle behavior that affects the process of brain aging may not seem to be a lifestyle at all: hearing loss. Of course, there are preventative measures you can take to prevent hearing loss, but some hearing loss occurs in almost all older adults. Those who have hearing loss tend to have higher rates of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and hearing loss is also related to a faster speed of cognitive decline among those who do develop dementia. You may wonder what can be done about the nearly inevitable event of hearing loss in later life.

Treating Hearing Loss

The good news is that hearing treatment can have benefits for your brain, along with the many other benefits to be expected in your everyday life. Stahl reports that getting treatment for hearing loss, such as using hearing aids, can promote cortical restructuring and cognitive improvement.

If you believe that you have hearing loss, consider it one of the top four lifestyle improvements you can make that will promote a healthy brain. Wearing hearing aids can be incorporated into your lifestyle in a seamless way, making it possible to fully engage with the world around you.

Professional Hearing Services

The first step toward a healthier lifestyle with hearing loss is to make an appointment with our team at Professional Hearing Services. After a hearing exam, your hearing professional will be able to recommend the right type of hearing aids to suit your lifestyle, and the benefits might mean a healthier brain longer in life.