There’s a reason that many of today’s fitness gadgets measure and provide data on exercise, diet and sleep. We’re always counting steps, calories and winks. But there’s another component to the healthy aging equation that is sometimes left out of the conversation, and that is hearing health.
A recent session at the 2017 Neuroscience Educational Institute Congress suggested that we pay particular attention to the four main lifestyle areas that impact the aging process, specifically in regard to brain aging. The hearing aptitude was a marked measurement because of the ways that the brain can reorganize as brain functions decline in parallel with the aging process.
Do you believe in plastic?
The University of California San Diego’s Dr. Stephen M. Stahl suggests that intelligence remains the stable in the aging process, however it tends to be mental agility that declines. His advice for maintaining prolonged brain quickness? Introduce or continue a healthy diet in addition to a regular exercise routine, plus prioritize regular and adequate sleep. These steps, says Dr. Stahl plus hearing loss intervention, if necessary, all lead to continued neuroplasticity, or the ability of the brain to flex and adapt. This neuroplasticity is a quality we want to continue to cultivate in our brains as we get older.
BFF (Brain function forever)
As a young person, injuries are quick to heal. Sometimes it takes only days or weeks before someone in their twenties can bounce back. When a similar injury occurs within a body that is on the other side of fifty, however, that just isn’t the reality. Instead, folks at or beyond mid-life might instead practice working with limitations and care requirements that come with an older body. It behooves us to instead prevent injury altogether so that recovery time isn’t required in the first place. This is a great analogy to use when we’re thinking of our brains; we might think of our brain as a muscle. We’re similarly required to support and maintain it because we want to preserve this particular muscle as long as possible.
Take your brain to the gym
When we subscribe to the brain-is-a-muscle paradigm, we can agree that regular exercise then benefits the brain. This is for so many, many reasons. For one, most contemporary understandings of human health acknowledge the interconnectedness of all our systems. We cannot separate the parts from the whole. Instead, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!
For the brain to operate at its peak function, we have to incorporate health habits that support our entire organism. So, regular exercise for the physical body is paramount. Regular exercise provides movement, which is what the body was designed for. It also aids the circulatory system, results in lower instances of depression and anxiety, decreases instances of osteoporosis, and all around healthier tissues.
Looking specifically at brain function, exercise increases blood flow, an essential element of a healthy brain. Moreover, the repetitive movements inherent to many modes of exercise strengthens the mind/body connection and enhances those neuropathways in the brain. Want to up the ante? Introduce new types of movements that then create new neuropathways, a major factor in neuroplasticity.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet
From a seemingly endless list of intriguing diets, it’s hard to figure out which one is the best for you. Which ones are just a fad and which actually work? The best way to choose a plan for healthier eating is to first speak with your physician. Voice your concerns about maintaining a healthy lifestyle in order to preserve brain function as long as possible. You also might go online for a little pre-appointment research first. Or, even do a quick survey of your friends to see what they’ve found to be successful before you and your doctor choose the winner.
Get that shut eye
Giving your body adequate sleep is almost a no brainer! Commit to a reasonable bedtime that allows for at least six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. In older adults, sleep disorders begin to increase in likelihood and expression. If insomnia, or some other sleep disorder, is a problem, do speak to your physician to discern or treat the underlying cause and put sleep back on the top of your list.
Intervene in hearing loss
Hearing loss is an example of how neuroplasticity can work against us. So much of what we think of as our ears working is really our brain translating sound information into meaning. That’s why we say that a large part of hearing actually happens in the brain. When hearing loss occurs, sound information decreases. At this point, our brain might decide to do a little housecleaning. Areas of the brain previously devoted to translating sound into hearing realize that they’re not being utilized and receive reorganization orders. This is particularly impactful as the same part of the brain responsible for hearing also houses memory.
If hearing loss is impacting your life, reach out to us at Hearing Health. A quick and easy hearing exam coupled with a conversation with our team can result in immediate intervention that is suited for your unique situation.