Exercising with Hearing Loss: 4 Smart Strategies

Fitness is vital for all of us: Exercise has an array of benefits, from releasing feel-good endorphins to helping prevent deadly COVID-19 complications.

Peloton with hearing aids

Pro tip: Try enabling captions during Peloton classes to miss fewer instructions.

It’s especially important for those of us with hearing loss. A 2016 study shows that exercise not only reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity, but it can also reduce your risk of or the worsening of hearing loss. University of California Irvine Neurotology and Skull Base Surgery Professor Hamid Djalilian, M.D., told Hearing Tracker that metabolic causes contribute to the development of age-related hearing loss.

“Poor control of blood sugar and blood pressure leads to increased levels of hearing loss in large population studies,” Dr. Djalilian said. “Exercise is an effective way of reducing both of those factors. These metabolic phenomena are thought to impact microvascular disease, which involves the closure of small blood vessels that feed the inner ear.”

With those benefits clarified, the next step is figuring out an appropriate exercise routine when you have hearing loss. Many athletic activities can pose challenges for those who are hard of hearing. With some modifications and a willingness to experiment, you’ll find a good fit. Here are four pointers to help you stay both in shape and safe.

1. Choose accessible exercises

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, digital marketer Meryl K. Evans, who is profoundly deaf, worked out at in-person exercise classes. She has since switched to virtual classes and has discovered they have a number of advantages.

Evans told Hearing Tracker that in the past, she “missed out on tips and motivation” at in-person classes. Lately, she’s been taking Peloton classes, and said she gets a trove of information from the captions that are on-screen. “I work out a lot better because of those instructions I used to miss,” she explained. “Plus, I never used to know what song was playing. Now, I always know because Peloton tells me.”

If you are hard of hearing or deaf, it can be difficult to keep up with verbal instructions in fitness classes. You may find that captioned virtual classes take your workout results and enjoyment up a notch or two.

2. Keep your balance

If you live with Ménière's disease or another hearing loss-related condition that makes you unsteady on your feet, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever exercise. However, you do need to be careful to avoid falls. Consider working with a team of health professionals to address the issue and find exercises that work for you.

“The patient should consult with their physician and have a workup of their imbalance to determine and treat the underlying disorder,” Dr. Djalilian said. “The less the balance system is challenged, the weaker it becomes. A sedentary lifestyle...will lead to significant weakening of the system.”

“Physical therapists are tremendously helpful in helping patients with these issues,” he added. Working with a physical therapist can also help you develop core and lower-body strength – two important fitness factors.

3. Swap for safety

When you have hearing loss – and if it progresses – it’s important to recognize your limitations and find new avenues for staying in shape. John Miller, a graduate student at the Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, lives with Norris Disease, which led him to be born blind and has developed progressive hearing loss.

Miller stopped swimming (once a favorite activity) because he is not comfortable exercising without hearing devices. He decided to give up playing Beep baseball, a version of baseball for people who are blind or have low vision. “The game depended on being able to hear the ball and the sounds from the base to get around safely,” Miller said. Due to his hearing loss, he couldn’t pick up on those signals. “I nearly plowed into a fence,” he said. Today, he’s found that brisk walking is a better way to keep fit.

As with balance issues, it may be beneficial to work with physical therapists and other relevant health professionals to find which types of exercise are the safest for you to participate in.

4. Let your hearing aids or cochlear implants help

Wearing a device to enhance your hearing while working out has many benefits, with the ability to hear those around you being a critical one. Ear surgeon Chad Ruffin, M.D., who was born deaf, told Hearing Tracker that wearing his devices improved his sense of rhythm while playing sports.

“I normally only wear my cochlear implants for talking to people,” Dr. Ruffin said. “However, my tennis improved after I started wearing them during matches.”

Worried about your devices falling out? There are products ready to help. Hearing-aid sweatbands and headbands, skull caps and hearing aid clips can help make sure your devices stay in place while you work up a healthy sweat and stay in shape.