You could put together an entire book on the benefits of regular exercise. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, decrease our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, boost 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 improved hearing to the list of the perks of exercise. Here’s what they discovered.
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 second group did not. The researchers then measured 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.
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 markers of inflammation to about one half the levels of the inactive group.
Why is this significant? 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 higher 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 compared with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.
For humans, this indicates that age-related inflammation can damage the structures of the inner ear, bringing about 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 exercise inhibits inflammation and produces growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then physical fitness may be one of the best ways to lessen hearing loss into old age.
Just about two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the variables that result in 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.