Is there anything exercise can’t do? It’s been shown that regular activity can help maintain our physical health as we age. Regular exercise helps improve circulation, strengthen your joints, bones, and muscles, and even heightens your mood.
Did you know that exercise could help improve your hearing? Researchers have found links between physical activity and improved hearing ability.
New Study: Regular Exercise Could Help Lower the Risk for Hearing Loss
A team from the University of Florida’s School of Medicine recently published their findings in the November Journal of Neuroscience that showed a significant link between exercise and hearing health in an experiment conducted with mice.
The study was performed by a team led by Dr. Shinichi Someya as part of the University’s Institute on Aging, which compared hearing loss in sedentary mice with that of active mice. Mice who exercised regularly on a running wheel demonstrated about 5% hearing loss over time, whereas hearing loss in inactive mice was found at roughly four times that rate, around 20%. When analyzing the cause of hearing loss, Dr. Someya’s team found the mice that were not exercising had shown an increased loss of hair cells and strial capillaries in their auditory system.
Our hearing health is reliant on the delicate pieces of our auditory system. Someya’s team were concerned specifically with three intricate parts of the inner ear: the hair cells, the strial capillaries and the spiral ganglion. Hair cells are filament-like receptors each specifically tuned to receive different auditory frequencies and send their signals to the brain. Sound waves activate the hairs by changing the pressure in the cochlea. Strial capillaries are connected to the circulatory system and deliver necessary oxygen and nutrition to the ear. The spiral ganglion neurons are a nerve cluster in the root of the inner ear responsible for sending interpretations of sound waves to the brain – the connection between how the ear hears and the brain interprets sound. The deterioration of any of these three components would have serious effects on the hearing of mice -or men- causing irreparable damage.
How Exercise Could Benefit the Hearing Health of Older Adults
The intricate and sensitive parts of ears do decline, naturally, with aging. Over 70% of people over age 70 have some degree of hearing loss, much of it related to gradual decline in the performance of our inner ear.
Dr. Someya’s team suggests that age-related inflammation may cause a significant part of this damage, reducing performance or crippling cell function. Their findings in mice suggest something hopeful: while aging, exercising mice showed only half as many markers of inflammation as their sedentary counterparts. This may also bode well for humans – an indication that consistent exercise may be able to protect our bodies from harmful inflammation. By cutting our risk of inflammation, we may counter some similar effects of aging as those found in mice, and help shield our ears from unnecessary damage in the process.
The University of Florida experiment has only been conducted on mice so far. Researchers used a running wheel as an exercise tool for the active mice and offered no running wheel to the inactive mice. Additionally, mice were kept separately so individual activity on the running wheels could be monitored. Mice were assessed at varying age points up until 24 months. Exercising mouse activity peaked around mice aged 6 months (the equivalent to a 25-year-old human).
At their most active, these young mice averaged over seven and a half miles on their wheels daily. The study found older mice with running wheels still exercised and did so at about a third of their younger rate, clocking about two and a half miles of wheel activity per day. Mice were also assessed for their hearing sensitivity to different frequencies as they aged. The older mice, measured at 2 years of age, showed a dramatic gap in both hearing ability and physical constitution of their inner ears. Exercising mice had physically healthier ears and greater hearing acuity.
Because perceiving sound can seem like a passive activity it can be tough to recognize how much energy it takes our bodies to keep our sense of hearing constantly “on”. Similarly, because there are no training gyms for our ears, we don’t always pick up on all the heavy lifting they have to do every day. Hopefully, this study, published as the paper “Effects of Long-Term Exercise on Age-Related Hearing Loss in Mice”, is just the beginning of a clearer picture of the relationships between exercise, aging and healthy hearing.
Before engaging in a new exercise regimen, be sure to talk to your physician. They will recommend the best exercise for you.