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Hearing Loss

Periodic Exercise Key to Stemming Hearing Loss and Improving Balance

Even going to the gym presents challenges for the hearing-impaired.

Start moving!

Want to keep your hearing and protect yourself from falls? Get out there and start moving! Physical activity will do wonders for you, especially if your hearing isn’t what it used to be.

According to a recent Brigham and Women’s Hospital study, researchers found a strong link between obesity and hearing loss in females. Women whose Body Mass Index exceeded 40 had a 25% higher risk of hearing loss than those with BMIs under 25, with daily activity helping lower the potential by as much as 17%, the research concluded.

“We often think of hearing loss as an inevitable part of the aging process, but these findings provide evidence that potentially modifiable risk factors, such as maintaining a healthy weight and staying physically active, may help in the prevention of hearing loss or delay its progression,” said lead author Sharon Curhan, M.D., according to a BWH press release.

Outdoor exercise can be a challenge

But it’s not all that easy, especially if you’re already hard of hearing. Daily exercise outside a gym can prove difficult, especially if you live in a highly trafficked area, where you need to be fully aware of your surroundings to stay out of harm’s way. So, running, walking, and even hiking without a workout partner could put you in harm’s way.

Getting hit by a car, for example, would more than counteract the beneficial effects you gain from exercise. Biking presents yet another hazard, especially for those with balance as well as hearing impairments, which tend to go hand-in-hand as you age.

Even going to the gym presents challenges for the hearing-impaired. The excruciatingly loud music that blares during exercise classes makes it difficult to hear what your instructors are saying and could leave your hearing worse off. What’s the point of sweating to the oldies if you aren’t doing it right and could inadvertently injure yourself?

A new concept

Fear not, readers. A gym in Nashville, Tenn., has just the workout regimen for aspiring deaf and hearing-impaired gym rats, according to a recent USA Today story.

Of course, there’s no loud music and shouting. At Bridges, a center for the hearing impaired in middle Tennessee, the instructors use sign language to issue their commands and visual clues to inform their clients of what to do next, services unheard of at a normal gym. From squats to leg lifts to lunges, they help those with complete or partial hearing loss go through the paces and learn how to use the machines and lift weights correctly to achieve the best results.  In addition to weight training, they also offer Zumba and yoga.

Hopefully the Bridges concept will spread nationwide, or at least raise awareness that the deaf and the hearing-impaired can benefit greatly from physical activity in maintaining a healthy weight and improving balance, which is as important to well-being, especially as you get older.

Hearing loss increases risk of falls

Even mild hearing loss nearly triples your risk of falling once you’re past 40 years of age, according to 2012 Johns Hopkins University/National Institute on Aging study. That skyrockets by an additional 140 percent for every 10 decibels added. The majority of people who suffer injuries because of falls are older and hence more likely to have hearing loss and probably balance issues as well.

Workouts geared to strengthening the core — through pilates or weight-lifting with supervision or even aquatic aerobics (provided your head is above water) — can help improve balance as well as reduce belly fat, a key predictor of heart disease, help alleviate lower back pain, and correct posture. It also improves athletic performance, a perk that all age groups could benefit from.

If you’ve been a runner all your life and can’t bear to part with it, consider learning how to safely use a treadmill or similar cardio machines and do it with a buddy. You don’t need to have perfect hearing to operate them, but if you don’t learn how to control the speeds, you could easily go flying off, especially if you have balance problems in addition to hearing loss.

So, get your heart beating. It’s good for your overall health and outlook on life, and it’s also good for preventing accidental falls and further hearing loss.

By Melinda 'Sunni' McBride, Au.D.

Melinda “Sunni” McBride, Doctor of Audiology, founded South Bay Hearing & Balance Center in 2007. Dr. McBride and her team of specialists have created a dynamic, award-winning audiology/hearing aid practice, located in Torrance, that uses the newest in high-tech equipment and stresses personalized customer service. She and her team have been voted South Bay’s Best Audiologists every year since 2008. The team became a member of Audigy in 2011. As the only AudigyCertified™ practice in the community, they are committed to providing the highest level of hearing care. In 2013, Sunni acquired Mission Audiology in Mission Viejo.