Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the benefits of regular exercise. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, enhance our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to mention 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 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 while the second 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.

The Results

Researchers contrasted 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 noteworthy? 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 increased inflammation lost the structures of the inner ear at a much faster rate than the exercising group.

This contributed to a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice compared with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

For people, this indicates that age-related inflammation can injure the anatomy of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lowered and the structures of the inner ear—in conjunction with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are ongoing, 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 physical exercise may be one of the most useful ways to prevent hearing loss into old age.

Just about two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Identifying the factors that lead to hearing loss and the prevention of injury to the inner ear has the capacity to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.