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Overweight? It could mean you’ll go deaf: Regular exercise can reduce chance of hearing loss by 15%

By Pat Hagan

PUBLISHED: 17:13 EST, 23 December 2013 | UPDATED: 05:40 EST, 24 December 2013

Being overweight can increase your risk of going deaf, researchers found.

A 20-year study of nearly 70,000 women found those who gained the most weight were more likely to lose their hearing.

And although the study focused on women, the findings apply equally to men, the researchers said.

Until now, it was thought the only way to slow age-related deafness was to protect the ears against loud noise.

But the study also found that regular physical activity – such as walking at least two hours a week – could reduce the risk of hearing loss by around 15 per cent.

The study of 70,000 women found those who had put on more weight were more likely to lose their hearing. The findings are also applicable to men say researchers

The findings come from the Nurses Health Study, one of the biggest health research projects ever undertaken, which has been tracking the well-being of thousands of female nurses in the US since the 1980s.

Every two years for two decades the nurses were quizzed on health and lifestyle, including their dietary habits, weight and hearing loss.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that very overweight women with a body mass index (a measure of whether weight is healthy in relation to height) of 40 or higher were 25 per cent more likely to have damaged hearing than women with a healthy BMI of 25 or lower.

And women with waists bigger than 34.5in were 27 per cent per cent more likely to be hard of hearing than those with waistlines of less than 28in.

The risks of obesity were evident even when researchers took account of other factors known to affect hearing, such as smoking.

It’s not clear exactly how being overweight damages delicate cells in the ear.

The study found women with a BMI of over 40 were more likely to suffer damaged hearing. File image

But the researchers, whose work is published in the American Journal of Medicine, suggested fatty deposits could clog up blood vessels in the ear, limiting blood supply and therefore damaging cells.

A US study in the early nineties found elderly men and women with hearing loss were up to three times more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those whose hearing was still good.

Lead researcher Dr Sharon Curhan said: ‘The ear is highly metabolically active, so that means it’s really dependent on having adequate blood supply.’

She said obesity can compromise blood flow by narrowing blood vessels. People who are obese also are more likely to have high blood pressure, another condition that can hamper blood flow.

Around ten million people in the UK suffer some degree of hearing loss and, as we all live longer, that figure is expected to rise to 14.5 million in the next 20 years.

The vast majority of cases are due to the ageing process, where tiny hair cells in the inner ear die off and are not replaced.

High-pitched sounds, such as a bird chirping or a phone ringing, are usually the first to go.

According to the charity Action on Hearing Loss, most people put up with deteriorating hearing for around ten years before having it tested or seeking help.

Action on Hearing Loss said it is due to publish its own research within the next few months exploring the links between dietary habits, smoking and loss of hearing.