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Keeping Heart Fit May Also Protect Hearing and Mental Processing


The activities that keep your heart fit also appear to be the best way to protect the auditory processing system, or the ability to make decisions based on what we hear. Maintaining cardiovascular health into the senior years is also important as untreated hearing loss and impaired mental processing can lead to increased stress, isolation and depression – factors which then additionally contribute to heart disease and dementia.

Raymond Hull, a professor in communication sciences and audiologist at Wichita State University, compared the available research from the past 60+ years on the influence of cardiovascular health on the function of the peripheral and central auditory systems. Taking such steps as increasing physical activity can positively affect both of these systems.

Read: Hearing Loss May Increase Risk of Dementia

Hull notes that adult children often complain that their elderly parents appear to lose their hearing as they age. Seniors appear to have a particularly difficult time hearing in noisy environments. Hearing loss can occur at any age and for many reasons, but it may not actually be a loss of auditory function at all. What may be occurring is actually an inability to process what is being said and make decisions based on what is heard – a deficit in the interhemispheric information processing system. The decline may be due to becoming less active as one gets older.

“For central nervous system processing of what we hear,” says Hull, “we need a central nervous system that’s working well, and improved cardiovascular health appears to be one way that can happen.”

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And the good news is that it is never too late to start. Even moderate cardiovascular exercise when you’re in your late 80s or early 90s can improve the ability to process what you hear and help speed decision-making.

Read: Cranked-up Music on Headphones Can Lead To Hearing Loss

Audiologists at J. Waligora Audiology agree that heart health and hearing health go hand in hand. They offer the following simple tips for maintaining cardiovascular health:

• Schedule a check-up to assess risk factors such as blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and blood sugar.
• Stay connected to friends and family which improve mood and reduce stress. If you are avoiding social situations because of missing conversations or asking people to repeat what they said, schedule an appointment to get hearing checked.
• Eat a heart healthy diet that includes fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Choose foods low in saturated fats and sodium.
• Get moving. Even just short bursts of activity can help, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or getting a group together to take a few laps around the local mall.
• Ensure regular quality sleep. Sleep deprivation can make you more prone to hypertension, diabetes and other risk factors that contribute to the development of heart disease.

Journal Reference:
“The Influences of Cardiovascular Health on Peripheral and Central Auditory Function in Adults: A Research Review,” Journal of Audiology Vol.19 9-16 June 2010. doi:10.1044/1059-0889(2010/08-0040)

Image Credit: Photo by Simon James