December 2, 2010

Save your ears

What part of the body are you most likely to injure with aerobic exercise?  If you guessed hearing, you have probably taken a Spin or Zumba class recently.  Listening to loud music through ear buds or headphones can be equally damaging.  Loud noise, especially when prolonged, damages the delicate hair cells in the ear.  Once damaged, they cannot be repaired.  For some reason aerobic exercise seems to intensify the harm.
Hearing loss is insidious; you do not realize it until it is too late.  It may seem inconsequential now, but if you continually expose yourself to loud noise, you can look forward to a hearing aid or saying “what?” quite often in your future.
How can you tell if the music is too loud?  If you need to raise your voice, it is too loud.  If your ears hurt or ring it is too loud. If you are wearing ear buds and a friend can hear your music, it is too loud.  If you need to turn your car stereo louder after a class, it was too loud.
OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has set 85 decibels (about as loud as a lawn mower) as the level requiring hearing protection for factory workers.  The NIH (National Institute of Health) has estimated that the average overall noise level for an aerobics class is 87.1 decibels, with peaks ranging from 90.5-99.7!  So how can you protect your hearing and continue with your favorite class?
Try to talk to your instructor privately, though I must admit many are very defensive about volume levels.  You will probably hear that their students want the music loud, though in my twenty plus years of teaching I have never had a student ask me to turn the volume up!  You can try pointing out the risk of voice as well as hearing damage to the instructor, but if that does not work, speak to management.  Most states have laws regarding decibel levels in commercial facilities, so you certainly bring that up.  If you really want to get specific, you can download an app for your phone to prove that the music is at damaging volumes.
If you get no response from the instructor or management and really love the class, you can purchase cheap foam cylinder earplugs at most drugstores.  They can reduce the sound by up to 30 decibels.  It is sad that you can ruin your hearing while doing something healthy, but speaking up, or wearing earplugs can protect your ears while you strengthen the rest of your body.

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