More than 50% of people over the age of 60 are affected by hearing loss in the UK. While turning the music down and wearing earplugs can protect your hearing, there are some other - more surprising ways - to lower your risk of hearing loss as you get older.
See also: Tinnitus: what causes it and what you can do
See also: Do you need to wear a hearing aid?
1. Eat your greens
Make sure you get plenty of spinach, spring cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, avocado and lentils in your diet. These foods are all good sources of folate – low levels of which have been linked to age-related hearing loss. Dutch researchers found that taking a supplement of folic acid (the synthetic form of folate) slowed hearing decline in older people. If you're concerned that you're not getting enough in your diet, consider taking a daily supplement.
2. Go for a power walk
The more fit and active you are, the better your hearing is likely to be. This is because doing aerobic activity carries more oxygenated blood around your body, including your ears. And that, according to researchers, may improve your hearing
If power walking or jogging isn't for you, considering taking up yoga. Certain positions, such as the Downward-Facing Dog, help improve blood flow to the cochlea, the hearing organ in your inner ear which is affected by age-related hearing loss. The British Wheel of Yoga has a list of local classes, or invest in a yoga DVD you can do at home.
4. Watch your cholesterol
Keeping your cholesterol levels in check will help to keep your ears in good working order, as well as your heart. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition looked at more than 2,400 participants, 32% with hearing loss and 68% without hearing loss, and their dietary fat intake.
Researchers found that those with the highest levels of cholesterol in their diets had a 33% higher chance of suffering from serious hearing loss. They also found that as a person's diet went up in cholesterol, so did their chances of having hearing loss.
5. Find ways to relax
Chronic long-term stress is known to have an impact on many of the body's core functions. As well as increasing your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, stress is linked to a greater risk of hearing problems, including tinnitus which often accompanies hearing loss. Find time to relax – whether that's taking up tai chi, seeing friends, walking in the countryside or enjoying a good book. If stress is a prolonged problem for you, talk to your GP for advice.
6. Have a glass of wine
Enjoying a small glass of wine with your meal may be good for your hearing, as well as your heart health. Studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption may help protect against age-related hearing loss. Be sure to limit how much you drink. Chronic excess alcohol intake has been associated with irreversible hearing loss, while acute alcohol intake may temporarily impair hearing.
7. Eat plenty of fish
Eating a diet rich in fish may help to improve hearing, particularly in men, according to researchers in Sweden. The study published in the International Journal of Audiology also found that eating a diet high in refined sugars (found in cakes, biscuits and sweets) was linked to poor high-frequency hearing, especially in women.
8. Quit smoking
You know that smoking increases your risk of cancer, heart disease and dementia, but you might be surprised to learn that it can also increase your risk of hearing loss. A study from the University of Manchester found that smokers have a 15.1% higher odds of hearing loss than non-smokers. The more cigarettes participants smoked and the longer they smoked, the higher their risk of hearing loss.
9. Watch your waist size
There's evidence to suggest that being overweight or obese could have a negative impact on your hearing. Researchers from The Brigham and Women's Hospital analysed data from 68,421 women, looking for a link between Body Mass Index (BMI), waist circumference, physical activity and self-reported hearing loss.
They found that women with a BMI of 40 or more were 25% more likely to suffer from hearing loss compared to those with a healthy BMI. Those who were overweight were 17% more likely to suffer hearing loss compared to those within a healthy weight range.
Not sure what your BMI is? Measure your waist. Women with a waist circumference of 80-88cm had an 11% higher relative risk for hearing loss compared to women whose waist measurements were less than 71cm.
10. Wear ear plugs
Finally, it may sound obvious but if you want to protect yourself from hearing loss, avoid loud noise and wear earplugs or ear muffs if necessary. Loud noise damages the tiny hair cells that enable us to hear and once they are lost they cannot be restored. As a general rule, if you have to shout over the noise around you, it's loud enough to damage your hearing.