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

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

In Hearing Health, Overall Health by Zach Kenealey, HIS

Zach Kenealey, HIS
Latest posts by Zach Kenealey, HIS (see all)

Aging naturally occurs over time, impacting the body as well as the brain. When the brain ages, cognitive functions and processes become less flexible. This involves cognitive functions like making decisions, memory, completing daily tasks etc. taking more time to perform or even becoming impaired. Though aging is a natural and inevitable process that happens, there are factors that can actually speed up or slow this process down. Research shows that lifestyle and health factors including: exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing impact brain aging. This includes a recent report from researchers at the University of California San Diego that identified these factors as significantly impacting brain aging.   


The many benefits of exercise are well known: supports blood flow, immune system, increases energy etc. A benefit of exercise that you may be surprised to learn about is its positive impact on brain health. The UC San Diego report highlights how exercise benefits the brain by exploring a study that investigates the relationship between exercise and brain health. This study involved 1740 participants, 65 and older, whose exercise patterns and brain health was evaluated for over 6 years.  

Researchers found that the people who exercised 3 or more times every week were 32% less likely to develop dementia compared to participants who exercised less than 3 times per week. 

This data shows that people who exercised were significantly less likely to experience cognitive decline, a key characteristic of dementia. Intermittent and consistent forms of exercise can improve attention, cognitive processing, and episodic memory. The strengthening of these cognitive functions supports brain health and reduces risk of cognitive decline. 


Dietary patterns are another factor that impacts brain health and aging. Extensive research identifies diet as a lifestyle factor that affects hearing health. Diet can contribute to hearing loss which can significantly increase the risk of developing cognitive decline. A major study that investigates the correlation between diet and hearing loss was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.  

This study involved researchers evaluating the hearing capacities as well as assessing dietary patterns of nearly 82,000 participants. Participants were evaluated every 4 years for 22 years. Researchers found that the participants who practiced healthier ways of eating were: 

  • 25% less likely to develop high frequency hearing loss 
  • 30% less likely to develop mid-frequency hearing loss 

These findings reveal that people with healthier dietary patterns were significantly less likely to develop hearing loss. Researchers categorized the healthy dietary patterns as closely resembling: Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED), Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI-2010). These diets emphasize increased intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains as well as eliminating processed foods and refined sugars. These dietary patterns also consist of meat and alcohol in moderation. Healthier dietary patterns support blood flow, bone health, the body’s immune system etc. This reduces the risk of developing conditions like hearing loss and cognitive decline. 


Did you know that over a third of adults do not receive adequate sleep each night? According to the Sleep Foundation,  50-70 million adults have a sleep disorder. You are probably familiar with the effects of lack of sleep: grogginess, fatigue, irritability, difficulty concentrating etc. But chronic lack of sleep can also affect brain health. In UC San Diego’s report, experts explain that 

Sleep deprivation increases the deposition of beta amyloid. Beta amyloid are amino acids or plaque deposits that are commonly found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. This then means that beta amyloid is a feature of cognitive decline. Research shows that sleep can clear these amino acids, specifically through slow wave sleep. This highlights that receiving consistent and quality sleep can contribute to a reduced risk of cognitive decline. 


With nearly 1 in 6 people having some degree of hearing loss, this medical condition is the third most common that people experience today. Substantial research identifies a correlation between hearing loss and cognitive decline. Hearing loss results in the brain receiving less auditory information which can affect the brain in significant ways that then contributes to cognitive decline.  Hearing loss results in less stimulation and activity for the brain which can shrink or restructure portions of the brain responsible for processing auditory information and lead to a loss of neurons. These effects can contribute to cognitive decline and associated conditions like Alzheimer’s. 

This research emphasizes the importance of exercise, diet, sleep, and hearing which offers a number of health benefits including supporting brain health and slowing brain aging.