Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of exercise. Physical exercise helps us to control our weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, enhance our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to name a handful of 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 healthier hearing to the list of the rewards of exercise. Here’s what they discovered.

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 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 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 markers of inflammation to about one half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this important? Researchers think that age-associated inflammation harms 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 resulted in a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice compared with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

Implications

For people, this indicates that age-related inflammation can harm the structures of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lowered and the structures of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be preserved.

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

About two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Identifying the variables that lead to 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.