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You could write an entire book on the benefits of exercise. Working out helps us to manage our weight, reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to describe a few examples.

But what about our hearing? Can exercise also prevent 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 discovered.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began by separating 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 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 compared 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 sedentary mice. The exercising group was able to hold most markers of inflammation to about one half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this noteworthy? Researchers think that age-related 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 contributed to a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice in comparison with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

Implications

For people, this means that age-related inflammation can injure the structures of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be decreased and the structures of the inner ear—in conjunction with hearing—can be preserved.

Additional studies are underway, but researchers believe that exercise prevents inflammation and generates growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical exercise may be one of the most useful ways to lessen hearing loss into old age.

About two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Determining the factors that result in hearing loss and the prevention of damage to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.

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