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You could write an entire book on the health benefits of exercise. Working out helps us to control our weight, minimize our risk of cardiovascular disease, improve our mood, boost our energy, and promote better sleep, just to identify 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 healthier hearing to the list of the benefits of exercise. Here’s what they found.

The Study

Researchers at the University of Florida began by splitting 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 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 keep most indicators of inflammation to about half the levels of the sedentary group.

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

This caused a 20 percent hearing loss in sedentary mice in comparison with a 5 percent hearing loss in the active mice.

The Implications

For humans, this means that age-related inflammation can injure the structures of the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss. By exercising, however, inflammation can be lessened and the structures of the inner ear—together with hearing—can be maintained.

Additional studies are ongoing, but researchers believe that exercise suppresses inflammation and generates growth factors that assist with blood flow and oxygenation of the inner ear. If that’s true, then exercise may 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 bring about hearing loss and the prevention of injury to the inner ear has the potential to help millions of individuals.

Stay tuned for additional findings in 2017.