Audiology Specialty Clinic - Sioux Falls, SD

Older couple biking in the woods

You could write an entire book on the benefits of exercise. Physical exercise helps us to manage our weight, minimize our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to list a few 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 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 sorting the mice into two groups. The first group of mice had access to a running wheel and 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 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 keep most indicators of inflammation to about one half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this noteworthy? Researchers think that age-related inflammation harms 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 resulted in 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 indicates that age-related inflammation can impair the structures of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be minimized and the structures of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be preserved.

Further studies are underway, but researchers believe that regular exercise prevents inflammation and generates growth factors that assist with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then 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. Determining the factors that lead to hearing loss and the prevention of damage to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of people.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.

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