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

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

Aging is inevitable and while our culture often fears it, when we are proactive about our health, we have the tools to maintain a higher quality of life for years to come. So what should we focus on to maintain prolonged health and vitality?  At the 2017 Neuroscience Educational Institute (NEI) Congress, Stephen M. Stahl, MD, PhD, adjunct professor of psychiatry, University of California San Diego, explains that “Exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing are four major factors that impact our aging,” By addressing these aspects of our health, we can increase our enjoyment of each day and fight the common clichés of aging that so many fears. 

As the Brain Ages

Some minor cognitive decline is common as we age and may start as early as our mid 40’s. Normal brain aging may mean slower processing speeds and more trouble multitasking, however routine memory, skills, and knowledge are generally stable and can often even improve with age!

“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.” However, as we age, we also become at a higher risk for dementia—a neurodegenerative disease which affects three or more aspects of thinking, such as memory, order of process or social functioning. For people aged between 65 and 69, around 2 in every 100 people have dementia, however, by addressing other aspects of our health such as regular exercise, diet, sleep and addressing hearing loss, we can reduce the risk significantly

The Importance of Exercise as We Age

Studies show that those who exercise regularly (3 times a week for 30 minutes or more) experienced a 32% reduction in risk of dementia.

Regular exercise means improved heart health, which delivers blood throughout the body including the brain. In fact, research suggests that regular physical activity and exercise throughout a person’s life can help slow many age-related functional declines including cognitive and physical.

A Healthy Diet as We Age

When we were younger it may have felt like you could have eaten anything and bounced back. However, as our body ages and slows down we may not be able to burn off calories as fast and a life of unhealthy eating choices can build up. 

Choosing a diet which prioritizes vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and fruits while avoiding processed foods and sugars can improve cognitive and heart health, helping us to maintain more sustained energy levels and improved overall health including a more even mood and positive outlook on life.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Health is not just what we do, but how we rest. As we age it is common for sleep patterns to change, making it harder to stay asleep for as long as we used to. Sleep and wake disorders are prevalent in older adults, with ~50% having insomnia and ~50% having sleep disordered breath, explains Stahl. However, sleep is how our body regenerates and is important to our overall health. However, an active life and monitoring our levels of stimulants such as caffeine and sugar can make a big difference in getting higher quality sleep and helping us feel rested day after day.

Diagnosing and Addressing Hearing Loss

The risk of hearing loss rises as we age. For those of us 60 years and older one in four will struggle with the condition but within five years this number jumps to one in three! By the time we reach 75 and older half of all of us will have hearing loss! Acknowledging the risk of hearing loss, including annual testing and treatment of hearing loss is a major step in aging gracefully. When we can hear the people in your life it means richer relationships, increased confidence, and the inspiration to pursue the things in life that you love. Stahl stresses treating hearing loss as a major component of aging gracefully. Stahl explains that while hearing loss is associated with brain atrophy and neurodegeneration, especially in the temporal cortex, over a 10-year period, treating hearing impairment may lead to cortical restructuring and cognitive improvement!

“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.”

If you suspect that you have a hearing loss, don’t let it go unaddressed. Access a greater quality of life by scheduling a hearing exam with us today!