How Our Exercise, Diet, Sleep, and Hearing Affects Our Brain Aging

In Brain Health by Nikki DeGeorge Weaver, Au.D.

Nikki DeGeorge Weaver, Au.D.

What Aging Means? What Ages Us?

Many of us can remember being a child, say 10 years old, and looking at the 13 year olds climbing the seats at the back of the bus and thinking that they looked basically indistinguishable from the adults. And many of us can remember the shock of reaching milestone ages, turning 18 or 21 or being forced to resolve our own experience of the world with the expectations of what we assumed it must feel like to reach this milestone age. Maybe at some point we wondered how it was that a 30 year old still had the energy to stay out so late. Maybe we remember the first time going to a friend’s 50th birthday party. However old we get, and however old those younger than us think that we are, it is still very common to feel trepidation about the age just ahead of us. Who hasn’t known a 27-year-old that cannot believe how old they feel or a 90-year-old with the spirit of a teenager?

What is aging? What actually ages us? We take it for granted that we all know what it is. It is a given. It directly corresponds to time. But what causes different people to experience it so differently?

Researchers believe that exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing are the four primary factors within our control that determine how we each age uniquely. The normal aging process means that our intelligence remains stable, but our brains slow down. We become less flexible mentally. Our processing times increase, while simultaneously, our motor, sensory, and cognitive abilities decline. All this happens as a result of the loss of cerebral white matter tissue that comes with aging.

Exercise, Diet, and Sleep 

Studies comparing people who exercise at least three times a week to those who do not, showed that those who exercised had a 32% reduction in likelihood of suffering from dementia. The research suggests that aerobic exercise benefits episodic memory, attention, procession speed, and executive functioning in otherwise healthy older people. And whether it is brief stints of intense exercise or long-term and repeated habits of milder exercise, both boost cognitive performance and memory in both normal aging and in patients that suffer from mild cognitive impairment.

It is also no surprise to people that a healthy diet is fundamental to an overall healthy lifestyle. Whatever unhealthy eating habits people may choose to adopt, it is rarely due to ignorance that they do so. But even if people understand the immediate benefits of a healthy diet on their energy and general feelings of bodily comfort and consequently their well-being, people may not think ahead to consider the cumulative effects that a healthy diet has on aging. Prioritizing high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts, and low amounts of red or processed meats, has proven to both improve cognitive functioning and slow cognitive decline.

Over half of all older adults suffer from sleep disorders. Most commonly these are either insomnia or sleep disordered breath. Sleep deprivation due to any cause increases your body’s production of amyloid beta, the amino acid found on the brains of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. Healthy, normal, slow wave sleep, on the other hand, clears these same amino acids.

Take Care of Your Hearing Health for the Sake of Your Overall Health 

Did you know that more than half of everyone in the U.S. aged 75 and above suffers from some degree of disabling hearing loss? Hearing loss not only risks your physical safety immediately by decreasing your awareness of your surroundings and even compromising your balance. Without appropriate treatment, hearing loss spirals quickly to damage your relationships, which directly impacts your emotional life. Feeling powerless to overcome this frustration, your emotional life directly impacts your psychological sense of well-being, which creates a powerful negative feedback loop. And tragically, less than 20% of everyone who lives with hearing loss seeks appropriate treatment.

Simultaneous to this sad course of degradation, your brain is literally rewiring how it operates in an attempt to compensate for the diminishing sense. This adjustment is not a simple or comfortable process. Hearing loss often leads to brain atrophy and neurodegeneration. In fact, mild hearing loss causes the risk of dementia to double. Moderate hearing loss causes the risk of dementia to triple. And severe hearing loss creates a fivefold increase in the risk of dementia.

Do not wait to take control of your own destiny. Make an appointment with one of the specialists today. It is always the right time to intervene in favor of your own health.