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You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of exercise. Exercise helps us to manage our weight, decrease our risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to name a few 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 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 other group did not. The researchers then calculated 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 non-exercising mice.

The Results

Researchers compared the indicators 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 half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this important? 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 increased inflammation lost the structures of the inner ear at a far 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.

Implications

For people, this indicates that age-related inflammation can damage the structures of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be reduced and the anatomy of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are ongoing, but researchers believe that regular exercise prevents inflammation and yields growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical exercise might be one of the best ways to lessen hearing loss into old age.

Nearly two-thirds of those age 70 and older have age-related hearing loss. Identifying the variables that bring about hearing loss and the prevention of deterioration to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.