You could write an entire book on the benefits of exercise. Working out helps us to control our weight, decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to mention 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 improved hearing to the list of the rewards of exercise. Here’s what they found.
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 while 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 contrasted this group of exercising mice with the control group of non-exercising 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 indicators of inflammation to about half the levels of the inactive group.
Why is this important? Researchers believe that age-associated inflammation harms 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 compared to a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.
For humans, this means that age-related inflammation can impair the anatomy of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be decreased and the anatomy of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be conserved.
Additional studies are ongoing, 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 true, then physical exercise may be one of the top ways to counter hearing loss into old age.
Close to two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Pinpointing the variables that lead to hearing loss and the prevention of damage to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of people.
Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.