Older couple biking in the woods

You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of exercising. Physical exercise helps us to manage our weight, minimize our risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance our mood, elevate our energy, and promote better sleep, just to identify 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 better hearing to the list of the perks of exercise. Here’s what they discovered.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started by separating 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 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 sedentary mice.

The Results

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 important? Researchers think that age-related inflammation harms 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 contributed to a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice in comparison with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

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

Additional studies are ongoing, but experts believe that regular exercise prevents inflammation and produces growth factors that assist with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then regular exercise may be one of the best ways to counter hearing loss into old age.

Nearly 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.