Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the benefits of regular exercise. 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 name 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 enhanced hearing to the list of the rewards of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started by splitting the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel while the other 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 contrasted this group of exercising mice with the control group of non-exercising 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 hold most markers of inflammation to about half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this significant? Researchers think that age-related inflammation impairs 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 brought about 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 harm the anatomy of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be limited and the anatomy of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be maintained.

Further studies are underway, but experts believe that regular exercise suppresses inflammation and yields growth factors that assist with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then exercise may be one of the best ways to counter hearing loss into old age.

Close to two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Identifying the variables that result in hearing loss and the prevention of damage to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of people.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.

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