Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the health benefits of exercising. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to describe a handful of examples.

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

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

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began by separating the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel while the second group did not. The researchers then calculated how far each of the mice ran independently on the 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 indicators of inflammation to about one half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this noteworthy? 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 more extensive 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 people, this means that age-related inflammation can injure the anatomy of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lowered and the anatomy of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are underway, but experts believe that exercise suppresses inflammation and produces growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then physical fitness might be one of the most useful ways to counter hearing loss into old age.

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

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.

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