Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the health benefits of regular exercise. Working out helps us to manage our weight, minimize our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to list a handful of examples.

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

According to a new study by the University of Florida, we can add enhanced hearing to the list of the benefits of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started by arranging the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel and the other 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 compared this group of exercising mice with the control group of non-exercising mice.

The Results

Researchers contrasted 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 sedentary group.

Why is this important? Researchers think that age-associated inflammation damages 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 far faster rate than the exercising group.

This caused 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 injure the anatomy of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lessened and the structures of the inner ear—in conjunction with hearing—can be preserved.

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

Close to two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Determining the variables that bring about hearing loss and the prevention of damage to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.