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You could put together an entire book on the health benefits of exercise. Working out helps us to control our weight, minimize our risk of cardiovascular disease, enhance our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to describe a few 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 enhanced hearing to the list of the benefits of exercise. Here’s what they found.

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 while the other 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 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 sedentary mice. The exercising group was able to hold most markers of inflammation to about one half the levels of the inactive group.

Why is this significant? Researchers believe that age-associated 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 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 indicates that age-related inflammation can harm the structures of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be decreased and the structures of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be maintained.

Further studies are underway, but experts believe that regular exercise suppresses inflammation and produces growth factors that help with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s correct, then physical fitness might be one of the top ways to counter hearing loss into old age.

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

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.

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