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For years we’ve heard that exercise is great for us, but where does the benefit truly lie. Its confusing in a culture which prioritizes fitness and shames obesity to get caught up in the perception of self at the gym. It can clearly turn many off from the image obsessed pursuit of the “perfect body”. However, in truth there are real benefits to staying active, especially as we age. Not only does it improve our mood and increase our heart health – it can affect our overall well-being. 

That is to say that when we stay active, we sleep better, we are less depressed, more likely to make healthy choices in our diet and maintain our health in all its aspects. In a 2017 lecture at 2017 Neuroscience Educational Institute (NEI) Congress led by Stephen M. Stahl, MD, PhD, adjunct professor of psychiatry, University of California San Diego, he states “Exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing are four major factors that impact our aging,” According to Stahl, these are four major pillars we can focus on to age more gracefully, with a higher quality of life.

As the Brain Ages

The brain is at the center of all our actions and thoughts – controlling cognitive aspects such as—remembering, planning, and organizing, making decisions, and more. When our brain is healthy it allows us to remain independent as we age. It’s important to look out for cognitive effects of a decrease cerebral white matter which often occurs due to alterations in myelin (demyelination).

“In normal aging, our brains slow down,” explains Stahl. “Intelligence remains stable, but we become less mentally flexible. We have longer processing time and declines in motor, sensory, and cognitive abilities.”

The Importance of Exercise as We Age

The data is clear, that the more we exercise the healthy our brain is. In fact, studies show that those who exercise 3 times or more weekly, have a 32% reduction in risk of dementia in comparison to those who exercised less than this. This increase in cognitive health could be as clear as an improved cardiovascular function which in turn, increases regular delivery of health oxygenated blood to the brain. It’s important to understand that it’s never too early to engage in regular physical activity as it will continue to support cognitive health into your golden years.

A Healthy Diet as We Age

However, it’s a combination of support for our health and brain which supports aging gracefully in terms of cognitive health. “We are what we eat” is a common saying which really rings true when it comes to cognitive health. In the United States, where fatty foods and processed sugars are part of the ingrained culture, it’s important to break this cycle. Prioritize a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. It’s okay to indulge every now and then, but your future self will thank you for a healthy diet over the years.

Healthy Sleep Habits

As we age, it’s common for sleep to be harder to obtain at times. Its often harder to fall and stay asleep. In fact, total sleep time often declines to 6.6 to 7 hours a night. However, sleep is a time for our bodies and brain to rest and immune system to regenerate. When we don’t get the sleep we need it can cause long-term insomnia, increasing the risk of depression and accidents.

Stahl explains “Sleep and wake disorders are prevalent in older adults, with ~50% having insomnia and ~50% having sleep disordered breath.”

Treating Hearing Loss

Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) becomes more common as we age. By 65, one in three people will have presbycusis, and this number will rise to one in two for those 75 and older. Not only does it make it harder to connect and communicate with the people around you, but it can cause cognitive decline, due to reduced information which the brain can receive. Overtime, sensory deprivation of sound has been linked to higher rates of brain atrophy and neurodegeneration, particularly in the temporal cortex. Stahl reports however that over a 10-year period treating hearing impairment may lead to cortical restructuring and cognitive improvement, 

If you suspect you have hearing loss, don’t let it affect your quality of life. Treating heairng loss may give you all the tools you need to stay active, eat healthy and get the rest you need. Contact us today to schedule a hearing exam and find out more!

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