Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the benefits of regular exercise. Exercise helps us to control our weight, minimize our risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to identify a few examples.

But what about our hearing? Can exercise also prevent age-related hearing loss?

According to a new study by the University of Florida, we can add healthier hearing to the list of the benefits 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 other 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 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 hold most indicators of inflammation to about half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this noteworthy? Researchers believe that age-related inflammation damages 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 led to a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice compared to a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

Implications

For people, this means that age-related inflammation can impair the anatomy of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be minimized and the anatomy of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are ongoing, but researchers believe that regular exercise prevents inflammation and yields growth factors that help with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical exercise may be one of the best ways to prevent hearing loss into old age.

About two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the factors 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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