Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the benefits of exercising. Exercise helps us to control our weight, reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to identify 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 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 arranging 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 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 sedentary mice.

The Results

Researchers compared 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 impairs 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 far faster rate than the exercising group.

This led to 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 age-related inflammation can impair the anatomy of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lessened and the anatomy of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be preserved.

Further studies are underway, but experts believe that exercise inhibits inflammation and yields growth factors that assist with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then exercise might be one of the top ways to counter hearing loss into old age.

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

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.

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