Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the benefits of exercising. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, enhance our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to list 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 better 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 while the second group did not. The researchers then measured 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 contrasted this group of exercising mice with the control group of less active 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 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.

Implications

For humans, this means age-related inflammation can injure the structures of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be limited and the anatomy of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are underway, but researchers believe that regular exercise inhibits inflammation and produces growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then exercise may be one of the most useful ways to lessen 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 injury to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of people.

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.