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Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the health benefits of exercise. Working out helps us to control our weight, minimize our risk of heart disease, enhance our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to mention a few 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 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 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 measured how far each of the mice ran independently 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 keep most indicators of inflammation to about half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this noteworthy? Researchers think that age-related inflammation harms 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 much faster rate than the exercising group.

This led to a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice as compared to a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

For humans, this indicates that age-related inflammation can injure the structures of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be reduced and the structures of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be conserved.

Further studies are underway, but researchers believe that exercise inhibits inflammation and produces growth factors that assist with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical exercise might be one of the best ways to prevent hearing loss into old age.

Close to two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Identifying the factors that bring about hearing loss and the prevention of deterioration to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.