Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the health benefits of regular exercise. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, decrease our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to name a few 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 improved hearing to the list of the perks of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began by splitting 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 individually 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 non-exercising mice.

The Results

Researchers compared the indicators 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 half the levels of the sedentary 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 far 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.

Implications

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

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

About two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the variables 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 findings in 2017.

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