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Walk, Bike, Swim Your Way to Better Hearing

In this world of confusing and conflicting information it is sometimes difficult to know what is good for us, and what isnt. The latest hot diet or a popular herbal supplement might be touted as the miracle cure-all, only to be dispelled later when new scientific data unearths the harmful side effects.

With all the fads that are thrown at us, how do we separate fact from hype? How can we know what is truly beneficial for our health, and what is outright dangerous?

One way to debunk the myths beyond relying on common sense -- is to look at the validity and longevity of various claims. Ask yourself: has a particular claim been verified and endorsed by the mainstream medical and scientific community; does it withstand the test of time; or is it just a flash in the pan?

While many so-called facts will fall by the wayside, one steadfastly remains: a link between regular cardiovascular workout and improved hearing. Simply put, maintaining healthy blood vessels and heart through exercise can benefit your ears.

Be Fit, Hear Better

Past and current studies conducted at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio show a direct relation between cardiovascular (CV) fitness and better hearing.

Though hearing acuity and, ultimately, hearing thresholds, are not entirely under our control, changes in certain aspects of physiological health have been shown to impact hearing sensitivity, says Kathleen Hutchinson PhD, Chair and Professor of the universitys Speech Pathology and Audiology Department. Namely, cardiovascular health has been shown to have a synergistic relationship to a persons hearing. We have proven in prior studies that cardiovascular health is linked to hearing thresholds.

Dr. Hutchinson is referring to the research study she and her colleagues, Helaine Alessio, Ph.D., of the Department of Kinesiology and Health, and Rachel Baiduc, B.S., Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, conducted at Miami University several years ago.

At that time, we found striking consistency whereby persons with low CV fitness, regardless of age, always had worse hearing compared to age-matched individuals with moderate or high CV fitness, Dr. Hutchinson says. Cardiovascular health and fitness seems to be an important mediator of hearing sensitivity.


New Studies, Same Findings

The team is taking the research further, expanding on the knowledge already gained through its previous studies. For example, another variable, otoacoustic emissions -- sounds produced by healthy ears in response to acoustic stimulation have been added to the tests.

By investigating otoacoustic emissions, a way to evaluate the integrity of the cells in the nerve of hearing, we are provided with another lens to examine the relationship between CV fitness and hearing, Dr. Hutchinson explains. The nerve involved in hearing has the very important job of collecting sound gathered by the outer and middle ear and preparing it for transmission to the brain.

For this study, subjects underwent a battery of hearing tests, including otoscopic examination (observation into the subjects ear to ensure that occlusions interfering with the testing process, such as wax build-up, were not present), pure tone hearing thresholds (subjects would indicate when tones of various loudness and pitch were heard to determine a threshold), tympanometry (a measure of ear drum mobility), and others.

Preliminary analysis of the data, Dr. Hutchinson says, reveals a link between hearing and a high cardiovascular fitness level. Though these results clearly produce clinical significance for persons with hearing loss, they are also relevant to all listeners, she says. By maintaining a high level of cardiovascular fitness, even in older age, individuals can help to preserve their delicate hearing system. It is highly recommended that unfit individuals begin even a moderate-intensity workout regime if there is history of hearing loss in the family. Cardiovascular fitness levels do decrease in most people with age, regardless of sedentary or active lifestyles. However, by keeping as fit as possible, one not only lessens the chance of health concerns related to being unfit, but also increases the chance of sustaining normal hearing thresholds even into old age.

The Heart Knows

The fact that the heart muscle needs regular conditioning is nothing new. Doctors have been telling us for years that exercise makes us more resistant to stress, heart attack, and a slew of other health complications.

For optimum results, the American Heart Association advises doing 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least three or four times each week. Unfortunately, studies show that 60 percent of American adults don't get the recommended amount of physical activity, and a quarter of all adults are not active at all.

But too often the word exercise gets a bad rap, because many of us think of it in conjunction with feeling the burn, that unpleasant sensation of tears and pulls all over our bodies.

Relax; there is no need to huff, puff, sweat, or suffer because moderate exercise, if done regularly, is just as effective as the high-impact kind, and far less harsh on the joints. Such enjoyable and fun activities as walking, hiking, biking, and swimming are an excellent cardiovascular workout, doctors say, and dont require expensive equipment or gym membership.

As the studies clearly indicate, the key to a better hearing and a good overall health is, literally, just an easy step or lap away.

Remember: stay fit. Your heart and ears -- will thank you for it.

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