Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the benefits of exercise. Physical exercise helps us to control our weight, decrease our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to identify a few examples.

But what about our hearing? Can exercise additionally prevent age-related hearing loss?

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

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started by dividing the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel and the other 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 contrasted this group of exercising mice with the control group of non-exercising mice.

The Results

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

Why is this significant? Researchers think that age-associated inflammation damages the structures of the inner ear (strial capillaries and hair cells). In fact, the non-exercising mice with higher inflammation lost the structures of the inner ear at a far faster rate than the exercising group.

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

The Implications

For people, this indicates that age-related inflammation can impair the anatomy of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be limited and the structures of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be conserved.

Additional studies are underway, but researchers believe that exercise inhibits inflammation and yields growth factors that assist with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then regular exercise may be one of the top ways to lessen hearing loss into old age.

Just about two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the variables that bring about hearing loss and the prevention of injury to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of people.

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.

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