Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the benefits of exercise. Physical exercise helps us to manage our weight, minimize our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to name a handful of examples.

But what about our hearing? Can exercise additionally 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 rewards of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began by dividing 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 calculated 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 less active mice.

The Results

Researchers compared the indicators of inflammation in the group of exercising mice with the sedentary mice. The exercising group was able to keep most markers of inflammation to about half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this important? Researchers believe that age-associated inflammation damages 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 brought about a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice as compared to a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

For humans, this means age-related inflammation can damage the structures 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 maintained.

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

Nearly two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the factors 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 research in 2017.