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

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida started by dividing 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 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 less active 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 indicators of inflammation to about one half the levels of the sedentary group.

Why is this significant? Researchers believe that age-associated inflammation impairs 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 far faster rate than the exercising group.

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

The Implications

For people, this means age-related inflammation can injure the anatomy of the inner ear, bringing about age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be minimized and the structures of the inner ear—along with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are underway, but experts believe that exercise suppresses inflammation and produces growth factors that help with circulation and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then exercise might be one of the best ways to prevent hearing loss into old age.

Nearly 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 deterioration to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional research in 2017.