Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of exercising. Exercise helps us to control our weight, decrease our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to mention 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 benefits of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began by dividing the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel and the second group did not. The researchers then measured 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 indicators of inflammation in the group of exercising mice with the group of sedentary mice. The exercising group was able to hold most indicators of inflammation to about one half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this important? Researchers think that age-related 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 contributed to a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice in comparison with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

For people, this indicates that age-related inflammation can damage the anatomy of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be decreased and the anatomy of the inner ear—in conjunction with hearing—can be preserved.

Further studies are underway, but experts believe that exercise suppresses inflammation and yields growth factors that assist with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then exercise may be one of the best ways to lessen 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 injury to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.

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