Many of our body’s systems are linked. For example, if you stub your toe, the nerves there – which stretch all the way up the back of your leg and to the spinal cord where they ultimately reach the brain – send signals that are interpreted by the brain as pain. This is fairly easy to understand due to what we know about the nervous system.

But sometimes, researchers and physicians aren’t entirely sure why certain maladies or parts of the body are linked. One good example is hearing loss and heart health: much research reveals that hearing loss is correlated with one’s risk of heart disease, and vice versa. Experts aren’t exactly sure why this is the case, but they do have some ideas.

One idea is that the restricted blood flow in arteries, due to the build up of plaque – which is a feature of poor heart health – can cut off blood flow to the structures in the inner ear, which are extremely delicate. Thus, experts say that people with cardiovascular disease and poor heart health should have their hearing checked to determine if they have hearing loss. Also, researchers and experts seem to agree that the evidence can go the other way as well: the ears can be an indicator of possible heart health problems that have yet to be detected. So if someone presents with even minor hearing loss, audiologists and other hearing health care professionals should refer them to a physician to monitor their cardiovascular health.

Tips to protect your ears and heart

Thankfully, since hearing and heart health are undeniably linked, there are some lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your overall heart and hearing health and prevent any problems. For February, also known as American Heart Month, here are some things you can resolve to do to protect both your ears and your heart:

Quit smoking

If you smoke, now is a great time to quit. It’s been well-known for at least a few decades that cigarette smoking increases your risk for heart disease because it constricts the blood vessels. As you can imagine, this also has a negative effect on the tiny, delicate blood vessels and our ears.

Eat more apples and less cookies

It might seem like a lot of work to completely overhaul your diet, but you don’t have to do it immediately. Instead, focus on adding a few more foods here and there that are low in or absent of saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, such as oatmeal, fresh fruits and vegetables and beans, lentils and other legumes in place of meat a few times a week. Fiber is important because it often helps to lower cholesterol, and too much cholesterol clogs the arteries and jeopardizes heart health.

Get exercise every day

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get about 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 30 minutes per day for five days a week. We all know that regular exercise is good for overall health. It can help you stay at a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol, both of which are important in staving off heart problems.

Take your prescribed medications

If you have medication for diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it’s very important to take it as prescribed by your physician. These conditions can be wearing on the heart and are all linked with hearing loss. Your doctor can suggest ways to manage your medications if necessary.

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