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Attention Couch Potatoes: Time to Move that Thing and Hear Better!

Exercise. Youve tried it, hated it and never intend to do more than take out the trash once a week. Sound a little too familiar? Uh-huh, yeah a lot of older Americans are Barcalounger-bound boomers getting older by the minute.

Time to change. Time to rethink your habits and maybe improve the quality of your life and (hold on) your hearing. A recent study conducted in the Netherlands indicates that aerobic exercise increases blood flow to the brain, improving those brain departments that sort and identify the sounds we hear.

Medical science has long pointed to the cardio-vascular benefits of aerobics. Lifting em up and putting em down three times a week improves blood flow, which in turn improves everything from mood (love those endorphins) to knee bones. Now you can add hearing to the list of quality improvements to your life brought to you by a little exercise.


"Walk, run your way to better hearing"

"Aerobic physical exercises that improve cardiovascular fitness also help boost cognitive processing speed, motor function and visual and auditory attention in healthy older people," said Maaike Angevaren, lead author of the study. So whats this all about?

How We Hear or If a tree falls in the forest

Most of us assume we hear with our ears. Seems reasonable, but the fact is we actually hear with our brains. In a nut shell, heres how it all fits together.

If a tree falls in the forest heading right for you, does it make a noise? You bet it does. A loud, scary noise. And you dont have a lot of time to figure out what to do!

When the tree falls, it creates a disturbance in the air in the form of sound waves. These sound waves are captured by your outer ear (the part you can see) and directed down a narrow canal the ear canal.

At the end of the ear canal, theres the ear drum that vibrates in time with those waves you picked up. These vibrations travel through a series of bones (the three smallest bones in the human body, FYI), which, in turn, vibrate a delicate instrument of the inner ear, the cochlea. This fluid-filled organ vibrates in time with the three bones, disturbing the fluid inside. These disturbances then stimulate the millions of tiny hair-like structures that line the inside of the cochlea.

Now, up to this point you still havent heard that tree falling on you in the forest. So far, sound waves disturbances in air have been picked up, delivered as vibrations through the middle and inner ear, which has stimulated the hair-like structures within the cochlea.

These hairs convert vibrations into electrical impulses, a miracle of nature to be sure. These impulses are next sent to the hearing (auditory) portion of the brain where you hear the falling tree for the first time.

Not only do you hear it, you immediately pinpoint the exact location of the source of the sound, you process the hearing information sent to the brain, identify the sound of a falling tree (a sound stored in the old memory banks), identify possible danger and step aside so the tree just misses your foot. So basically, you hear the sound and then the brain processes the sound.

Total time to do all of this: nanoseconds. Almost instantaneous. Good thing, too. If we werent capable of identifying sounds, their sources and meanings, our early ancestors would have been lunch for saber-tooth tigers and we wouldnt be here.

So, your entire hearing system from outer ear to hair-like cochlear converters could be functioning at full capacity, but if your brain is low on oxygen because youre sedentary 24/7, you may hear it but not get it. Get it?

The fancy term is auditory processing, which refers to our ability to take the sound we perceive (hear) and process it or in simpler terms understand it. If our brains are lacking on fuel, then the processing aspect of hearing may not be up to par and our understanding of and attention to incoming sound will suffer.

So Hows Your Brain?

Hey, boomers, whats up? These days, its probably the volume on the TV and your blood pressure. Notice that youre a little forgetful? Having problems paying attention to visual information and/or auditory information in busy situations? A bit slow to react when you stumble over a curb?

According to the Netherlands-based study, a bit of activity increases blood flow to the brain, nourishing those synapses and neurons we all abused back in the day of Woodstock. Is there anybody over 50 who didnt own a set of headphones so we could really get into Iron Butterfly? Plus, were the first generation to live with noise a lot of it.

Just a couple of generations back, there were no super highways, no jumbo jets, no headphones, earbuds or iPods. So, weve grown up listening to everybody from Bill Haley to Amy Winehouse and all those good vibrations have taken a toll, not only on your ear mechanicals, but the hearing parts of the brain.

The studys author, Maaike Angevaren, studied the effects of aerobic exercise on the over-50 crowd. It was a broad-based study, meaning many participants, so the datas pretty solid.

So why arent you working up a sweat about working up a sweat?

Aerobic Exercises

Aerobic exercise is intended to improve heart and lung health. Its fairly simple, really. You exercise to the point of elevating your heart and breathing rate. This increases highly-oxygenated blood flow to all parts of the body (a very good thing) especially for the brain, which needs a lot of highly-oxygenated blood to keep you on track a healthy track.

So, here are some tips that will yes, WILL improve life, including your ability to hearing and listen the way nature intended.

  1. See the doc. Visit your family physician for a once-over-lightly and ask your physician for an exercise plan that works for your current state of health. Shell be glad you asked and glad to provide the encouragement to get you up and out.
  2. Skip the gym. Isnt this what we need, a place to work out? Well today many of us our on tight budgets and gym memberships are expensive. Second, do you want to sit on the stationary bike that portly gentleman just vacated?

    A gym membership also places another stumbling block between you and exercise. You have to load up your gym stuff, drive to the gym, exercise, shower, back in the car, off for a full, busy day.

    The absolute best exercise, plain and simple, is walking. It doesnt stress the joints (low-impact), it does the trick raising heart and breathing rate and all you have to do is strap on your walking shoes and hit the bricks.
  3. Buy good walking shoes. There are lots of models of walking shoes. Dont scrimp. You dont have to buy the Super-Deluxe-Glow-In-The-Dark model but expect to pay between $60 and $80 for a good pair of walking shoes.

    Also, stick with brand names like Puma, Adidas and Nike. These companies have built their reputations on quality exercise footwear. You get what you pay for and, chances are, you need solid cushioning and support.
  4. Work up slowly. Do a short, half-mile stroll on day one. Enjoy the sunshine, the birds; say hi to the neighbors. Have fun. But do NOT do a 5K walk on day one. Why?

    Your muscles and joints need to build strength over time. If you do a 5K walk the first day, youll ache the next day, you wont go walking and youll decide that walkings not for me. Tried it once
  5. Keep a walking log. A great motivational tool. Record the number of miles you walked, how long it took you, which of your favorite routes you took, weather its a fun way to keep at it. Set yourself a long-term goal 500 miles in a year. Then, like the ad says, just do it.
  6. Fit it into your schedule. Routines keep us on course without thinking. Consider your morning routine. You get all the way through breakfast on auto-pilot. (Maybe all the way to work, for some of us.) Make a walk part of your routine your morning routine or evening routine. The great thing about a morning walk is the benefits stay with you all day. Sweet.
  7. Listen to your body. Finally, listen to what your body is telling you. As you walk, you should never huff and puff. You should be able to carry on a normal conversation as you walk. If youre going too fast, you wont be able to talk without gasping. If youre going it alone, hum or talk to yourself (as long as no one else is around). Never gasp for air. If you do, slow it down a notch, Tiger.

And, if you have an ache, take off a day or two to recover. Then, get back out there.

Your walking time is me time. Use it to plan your day or solve the problems of the world or just shut off your brain for 20 minutes or a half houror hour. Value this time and protect it from daily distractions.

Increase that blood flow and hear what youve been missing. Your brain will thank you for it in the years ahead.

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