Music in Exercise Classes Can Be Hazardous to Your Hearing

Patient Expert

Are you one of those people who likes to catch a spin class at the gym a couple of times a week? Do you pick a location right in front of the speakers so you can use the music as inspiration for your workout? And as you crank up the stationary bicycle's resistance, do you love to listen to the driving rhythm of an energetic song? If so, you may be working your quads, but you also may be hurting your hearing.

A new study out of Australia looked at the volume of music that is played during fitness classes. Researchers focused on noise levels of 35 low-intensity fitness classes and 65 high-intensity fitness classes over the course of a decade. They also surveyed 400 participants who took part in exercise classes to determine the music volume preferred by both the exercise class instructors as well as the clients. The questionnaires also asked whether the person filling out the survey found the music "stressful" or "motivating."

The researchers' analysis found that the loudness of music played didn't differ much between classes taught in 1997-1998 and those taught in 2009-2011. Not surprisingly, high-intensity exercise classes had louder music, averaging 93.1 decibels. Music decibel levels were especially loud in stationary cycling (spinning) classes. In comparison, low-intensity classes had music at 88.9 decibels in 1997-1998 and 85.6 decibels in 2009-2011.

Obviously, instructors who taught high-intensity classes opted to use these higher volumes since they controlled the volume knob. However, their clients weren't as excited about the choice of volume. In fact, while 85 percent of the instructors thought that loud music was motivating, approximately 20 percent of the people who were attending the exercise class found the volume stressful.

So is the music in these classes too loud? Data from the American Academy of Audiology puts the data into context. Examples of soft sound levels include a whisper (30 decibels) and a quiet library (40 decibels). Examples of moderate sound levels include moderate rainfall (50 decibels) and normal conversations and dishwashers (60 decibels). Examples of loud sound levels are traffic and vacuums (70 decibels) and alarm clocks (80 decibels). However, it's just above the loud category - when the volume reaches 85 decibels, to be exact - that permanent hearing loss can occur if the music is listened to for an extended period of time.

The academy warns that very loud sounds are dangerous to hearing when listened to for over 30 minutes. Examples of these sounds include lawnmowers, power tools, blenders and hair dryers (all 90 decibels), snowmobiles and MP3 players that are played at full volume (100 decibels), and concerts, car horns and sporting events (110 decibels).

The Australian researchers pointed out that fitness instructors who teach at least two classes a day are at risk of harming their hearing. The researchers suggested that the instructors should use visual techniques instead of loud music to motivate their exercise students.

So how can you protect your hearing while attending an exercise classes? The first suggestion I'd make is to encourage the instructor to turn the volume down. A second option is to stand in an area that's the farthest away from the speakers. You also can protect your hearing through wearing earplugs. If you experience tingling or buzzing in your ears after a class, take a break in a quieter place for a period of time so you don't damage your hearing. Also, be careful if you participate in several exercise classes back-to-back since your hearing could take a pounding thanks to the prolonged exposure to loud music.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

American Academy of Audiology. (2009). Levels of noise in decibels.

Beach, E.F. & Nie, V. (2014). Noise levels in fitness classes are still too high: evidence from 1997-1998 and 2009-2011. Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health.

Lukits, A. (2014). Bright lights may help sell big ideas. The Wall Street Journal.

NHS Choices. (2013). Protect your ears from loud music.