How Exercise, Diet, Sleep and Hearing Affect Brain Aging

How Exercise, Diet, Sleep and Hearing Affect Brain Aging

Aging is inevitable but with proper care we can age gracefully, enjoying the highest quality of life possible. Stephen M. Stahl, MD, PhD, adjunct professor of psychiatry, University of California San Diego explains during a session at the 2017 Neuroscience Educational Institute (NEI) Congress that “Exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing are four major factors that impact our aging,” 

As the Brain Ages

We don’t always want to admit it but cognitive decline is normal as we age. In fact, recent studies have found that cognitive decline may begin as early as 45- 50 years old and slowly progresses over time. It may be more difficult to remember everyday things, but even so too much forgetfulness could signal the early signs of dementia. Dementia is a neurogenerative disease, not a normal part of aging which signifies the loss of two or more cognitive functions. This could be—remembering, planning, and organizing, making decisions, and much more. 

“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.” It’s important to do what we can to keep our brain in as best shape as possible to avoid rapid cognitive decline. 

The Importance of Exercise as We Age

One way to keep our brain healthy is through regular exercise. Even 30 minuets three times a week or more can make a big difference in maintaining healthy blood supply to our brain. Studies have shown a 32% reduction in risk of dementia for participants who exercised 3 or more times per week compared with those who exercised less than 3 times per week. Stahl notes that research has shown that regular physical activity and exercise throughout a person’s life can help slow many age-related functional declines and prevent the onset of diseases related to obesity and sedentary behavior. This means that it’s important to start now, no matter your age!

A Healthy Diet as We Age

In addition to regular exercise, what we put in our bodies every day also makes a big difference in how our brain ages. A healthy diet helps to support mental acuteness, boost energy levels, and boost the immune system to fight off viruses and diseases. Surprisingly a healthy diet also boosts moods. While a diet high in sugar and caffeine will make you prone to mood swings form high to low, eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and lean proteins can keep you feeling even throughout the day, keeping you emotionally balanced and may be the key to a positive outlook. It’s never too late to modify your diet to live longer and stronger, sharpen your mind and feel your best! 

Healthy Sleep Habits

As we age, sleeping patterns tend to change. It’s more common to wake up more frequently and be more prone to being awoken. On average total sleep time stays the same or is slightly decreased to 6.5 to 7 hours per night. It’s important to do what you can to avoid sleep issues, especially as they become more common. Avoiding caffine and sugar before bed and getting plenty of exercise during the day can ensure better sleep hygiene to keep your mood even and positive. Sleep and wake disorders are prevalent in older adults, with ~50% having insomnia and ~50% having sleep disordered breath, explains Stahl.

Treating Hearing Loss

One way to make sure that your brain stays in the best shape possible is to monitor your hearing health. Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) becomes increasingly more likely the older we get. It affects one in three over the age of 65 and half of those 75 and older. Untreated hearing loss not only makes it harder to hear the world around you but can impact cognitive health.

Stahl explains that hearing loss is associated with brain atrophy and neurodegeneration, especially in the temporal cortex. 

“Lifestyle behaviors can alter neuroplasticity in detrimental or beneficial ways,” Stahl explains. “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.”

Treating Hearing Loss

It’s possible to age gracefully when you keep up with your total health. This includes testing and treating hearing loss. Contact us today to schedule a heairng exam and stay on top of your health now!