Background: Several cross-sectional studies have linked higher physical fitness with better hearing sensitivity but have not established a causal relation; none have used a prospective design that is less susceptible to bias. We used a prospective cohort study to investigate the association between muscular and performance fitness and the incidence of hearing loss. Methods: A total of 21,907 participants without hearing loss received physical fitness assessments between April 2001 and March 2002. Muscular and performance fitness index, an age- and sex-specific summed z-score based on grip strength, vertical jump height, single-leg balance, forward bending, and whole-body reaction time was calculated. Participants were classified into quartiles according to the muscular and performance fitness index and each physical fitness test. They were followed up for the development of hearing loss, assessed by pure-tone audiometry at annual health examinations between April 2002 and March 2008. Hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for hearing loss incidence were estimated using Cox proportional hazards regression models. Results: During follow-up, 2765 participants developed hearing loss. The hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) for developing hearing loss across the muscular and performance fitness index quartiles (lowest to highest) were 1.00 (reference), 0.88 (0.79-0.97), 0.83 (0.75-0.93), and 0.79 (0.71-0.88) (Ptrend <.001). Among the various physical fitness components, a clear dose-response association with hearing loss incidence was observed for vertical jump height and single-leg balance (Ptrend <.001 for both). Conclusion: Higher muscular and performance fitness is associated with a lower incidence of hearing loss.
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