Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of regular exercise. Working out helps us to manage our weight, decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to name a handful of examples.

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

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

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started 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 calculated 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 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 significant? 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 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 people, this means that age-related inflammation can impair the anatomy of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lessened and the anatomy of the inner ear—in conjunction with hearing—can be conserved.

Further studies are underway, but researchers believe that exercise suppresses inflammation and produces growth factors that help with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical exercise might be one of the top ways to counter hearing loss into old age.

Nearly 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 injury to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.