Center For Better Hearing - Glens Falls, NY

Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the health benefits of regular exercise. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to mention 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 enhanced hearing to the list of the rewards of exercise. Here’s what they discovered.

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 compared this group of exercising mice with the control group of sedentary 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 believe that age-related inflammation impairs 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 much faster rate than the exercising group.

This produced a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice in comparison with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The 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 anatomy of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be preserved.

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

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

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.

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