Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of exercising. Working out helps us to control our weight, reduce our risk of heart disease, improve our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to list 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 healthier hearing to the list of the rewards of exercise. Here’s what they discovered.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began 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 individually 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 sedentary mice. The exercising group was able to hold most indicators of inflammation to about half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this important? Researchers believe that age-related inflammation damages the structures of the inner ear (strial capillaries and hair cells). In fact, the non-exercising mice with more extensive inflammation lost the structures of the inner ear at a much faster rate than the exercising group.

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

The Implications

For people, this means age-related inflammation can injure 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 conserved.

Additional studies are underway, but researchers believe that exercise suppresses inflammation and produces growth factors that assist with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical fitness might be one of the most useful ways to lessen hearing loss into old age.

Close to 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 damage to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.