By Lynda Williams, Senior medwireNews Reporter
Regular exercise may help preserve the sense of smell in old age, a population-based study of olfactory loss reveals.
The 10-year cumulative incidence of olfactory impairment was 27.6% in 1611 individuals without baseline loss, with decreasing sense of smell significantly associated with increasing age (hazard ratio [HR]=1.88 per 5 years) and male gender (HR=1.27).
However, individuals who reported exercising hard enough to break sweat at least once a week were significantly less likely to lose their sense of smell than sedentary counterparts, with an age- and gender-adjusted HR of 0.76.
After further adjustment for nasal or oral steroid use, nasal polyps or a deviated septum, and smoking habit, the 10-year risk for olfactory impairment was significantly predicted by increasing age (HR=1.88) and exercising three or more times a week (HR=0.73 vs no exercise).
By contrast, diabetes mellitus, body mass index, and current smoking did not significantly predict olfactory loss, report Carla Schubert (University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA) and co-authors.
The researchers explain that the participants underwent the San Diego Odor Identification test at baseline in 1998–2000, when they were aged 53 to 97 years old, and again in 2003 to 2005 and 2009 to 2010. Impairment is defined as being able to identify fewer than six of the eight common odors presented in the challenge, such as chocolate or coffee.
“Because of the high prevalence, low awareness, and the impact that a decline in olfactory function may have on safety, nutrition, and quality of life in older adults, it is important to identify modifiable factors associated with olfactory function and aging,” the researchers comment in JAMA Otolaryngology– Head and Neck Surgery.
They recommend further research into how exercise may protect the sense of smell, hypothesizing that this may be due to the impact of exercise on brain function or overall health.
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