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Better hearing, less constipation and other surprising benefits of exercise

Robert J. Davis | 8/20/2017, 6 a.m.
Periodically, we see reports that scientists are closer to developing a pill that would mimic the benefits of exercise.
Running/ Exercise Courtesy Photo/CNN

Though this is a potential issue for elite athletes or people who do marathons or triathlons, the level of activity among most exercisers -- even if it's vigorous -- is far more likely to keep colds at bay than bring them on.

Healthier eyes

When you hear about a connection between exercise and eyesight, maybe you picture those eye exercise programs that promise to sharpen your vision. But that's not what we're talking about. Instead of moving your eyes, the idea is to move your feet.

Research shows that people who are physically active have a lower risk of cataracts. For example, a study of nearly 50,000 runners and walkers found that those who exercised most vigorously were 42% less likely to develop cataracts than those who exercised the least vigorously. Exercisers who fell in the middle in terms of intensity were also at reduced risk, though to a lesser degree.

The same researcher found a similar benefit regarding age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision loss also known as AMD, in a study of nearly 42,000 runners. The more people ran, the more their risk of the condition declined. A different study, which followed roughly 4,000 people for 15 years, showed that participants who were physically active were less likely to develop AMD than those who weren't active.

Scientists aren't sure why exercise protects against cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. One possibility is that it reduces inflammation, which is associated with both conditions.

Cataracts and AMD have also been linked to risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including elevated blood sugar and triglycerides, which regular exercise can improve. Further, some research suggests that people who are overweight or obese are more prone to cataracts and AMD, so physical activity may help by preventing weight gain.

Enhanced hearing

You heard it here first: Exercise may be good for your hearing. A study of more than 68,000 female nurses, who were followed for 20 years, found that walking at least two hours a week was associated with a lower risk of hearing loss. Other research has linked higher fitness levels with better hearing.

Exercise may protect against hearing loss by improving blood flow to the cochlea, the snail-shaped structure in the inner ear that converts sound waves into nerve signals that are sent to the brain. What's more, it may prevent the loss of neurotransmitters, which carry those signals between nerve cells. Exercise may also help by reducing the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which are linked to hearing loss.

Of course, blasting music into your ears while you exercise could have the opposite effect and do damage to your hearing. Noise-canceling headphones are a good option because they reduce the need to turn up your music as much. But don't use them while exercising on a busy road. By being unaware of approaching traffic, you could be subjecting yourself to a risk far more serious than loud music.

Better bathroom habits

The place to start, naturally, is No. 1: Though high-impact activities such as jumping or running can cause women to leak urine, research shows that moderate exercise may decrease the risk. For example, a study of middle-aged female nurses found that those who were physically active had lower rates of urinary incontinence than women who were inactive. A study of older nurses by the same team of researchers yielded similar findings.