Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of regular exercise. Physical exercise helps us to manage our weight, decrease our risk of heart disease, enhance our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to describe a handful of examples.

But what about our hearing? Can exercise also protect against age-related hearing loss?

According to a new study by the University of Florida, we can add healthier hearing to the list of the perks of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started by sorting the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel and the second group did not. The researchers then measured how far each of the mice ran independently on the running wheel.

On average, the group of exercising mice ran 7.6 miles per day at 6 months (25 human years) and 2.5 miles per day at 24 months (60 human years). Researchers then compared this group of exercising mice with the control group of sedentary mice.

The Results

Researchers contrasted the markers of inflammation in the group of exercising mice with the sedentary mice. The exercising group was able to hold most markers of inflammation to about one half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this important? Researchers believe that age-related inflammation harms the structures of the inner ear (strial capillaries and hair cells). In fact, the non-exercising mice with increased inflammation lost the structures of the inner ear at a much faster rate than the exercising group.

This resulted in a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice compared to a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

For humans, this means that age-related inflammation can impair the structures of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be reduced and the anatomy of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be preserved.

Further studies are underway, but researchers believe that exercise prevents inflammation and yields growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical fitness might be one of the most useful ways to lessen hearing loss into old age.

Close to two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the factors that lead to hearing loss and the prevention of damage to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of people.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.

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