By now you likely know that exercise has great benefits for a variety of physical and mental health issues. Regular exercise—even low to moderate levels of exercise, such as taking a walk every evening—can reduce the risk of heart disease, can stave off some forms of depression, and is very important to maintaining a weight that is healthy for you. Ultimately, exercise boosts your mood and improves your energy, and also helps you get better sleep. Recent research suggests that exercise can also have a positive impact on your hearing health, as well.
The Link Between Exercise & Hearing Loss
A 2016 study in the Journal of Neuroscience conducted safe experiments on mice to determine the different hearing capabilities of mice who were primarily sedentary and those that exercised. The results showed that the hearing structures of mice who were sedentary were negatively affected. They lost important hair cells and strial capillaries in their cochlea, which are responsible for sensing sound waves and delivering oxygen to the larger hearing system. When the cochlear system is unable to circulate the oxygen required to keep your larger auditory system functioning in a healthy way, there can be long-term damage (and thus, hearing loss). The mice who did not exercise also had fewer spiral ganglion, which are the nerve cells responsible for sending the sound signals from the ear to the brain. Compared to mice who exercised, these sedentary mice experienced an average of 20% hearing loss over their lifetime.
The mice who exercised, on the other hand, experienced just 5% hearing loss. This means that 95% of the mice had active hearing. All told, the mice who exercised lost working hair cells at a much slower rate than mice who did not exercise. This exercise appeared to diminish the effects of inflammation that accompanies aging mice, and the mice simply heard more clearly for longer periods of time. Following these results, the lead researchers of this study suggest that human exercising may also help to reduce potential damage to hearing structures.
The study complements a different study done by researchers at The Johns Hopkins University. There, they found that seniors who exercised regularly also maintained healthy hearing habits. The seniors who completed low to moderate exercise activities for just three hours a week fared far better on hearing tests than those seniors who did not exercise at all. Taking just 30 minutes a day to exercise can have great effects on your hearing health. This is because exercising promotes blood circulation throughout your body and invigorates oxygen circulation at the same time. This results in reduced inflammation—inflammation that can damage those sensitive and fragile hair cells and capillaries that are key to maintaining healthy hearing.
Healthy Hearing Habits During Exercise
Once you get going exercising, there are important things you should be doing to make sure that you are practicing healthy hearing habits. There is a link between loss of hearing and headphone styles, so be sure that you use over-the-ear headphones while working out. In-ear headphones easily cause noise-induced hearing loss. No matter the style of headphones you use, be sure to listen at maximum 60% volume and only for 60 minutes max. You can also practice healthy hearing when taking fitness classes that play loud music (or if your gym plays loud music). You can simply bring a pair of ear plugs to have on hand. You can also take short breaks from the loud music if you can.
There may be moments where you experience temporary hearing loss while exercising. The combination of noise and exercise can sometimes lead to sudden hearing issues, ranging from dizziness to ringing in the ears. Sometimes strenuous exercise can lead to a membrane rupturing in your inner ear, allowing fluid to seep into your middle ear cavity. This perilymphatic fistural can be temporary, but it sometimes requires surgery. Other moments of temporary hearing loss are far less severe and are often due to an imbalance in pressure in your inner ear. Yoga, for example, involves important breathing exercises. But, when performed incorrectly, this breathing can inadvertently cause sudden hearing loss.
There are many rewards to incorporating exercising into your healthy hearing habits. It is important to be in communication with any exercise professional you may be working with to ensure you are always performing the proper technique in order to avoid temporary and sudden hearing loss.