I was leading a Nancercize class in the park the other day, when I noticed a young woman who was walking alone, ear buds firmly in place. I could easily have been a mugger, sneaking up behind her. She would never have heard me because of the music filling her ears.
Safety is one important reason to unplug while you work out outdoors.
But there are other safety benefits: What about your hearing?
According to a recent study one-third of the 37 New York City gyms, restaurants, bars, and stores they studied had potentially dangerous noise conditions.
For example, one spin class (stationery bicycles) measured an average of 100 decibels over the course of the class—and got as high as 105 at one point. At other gyms, the decibel level averaged 91. Restaurants and certain retail shops also were dangerously—or at least uncomfortably—loud. My New Yorker readers might say: But we’re all about LOUD. Still, when we frequent gyms, restaurants, and stores it’s our choice. Sometimes we can’t avoid loud situations. This is one instance where we can avoid something harmful, so why not take control?
Realize: New Yorkers arenot alone. Another recent national study found that 80% of the health clubs and spas consistently played music that exceeded the level needed to harm our hearing. The instructor’s voice also exceeded this limit. This is not only bad for us, but bad for employees, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety recommendations.
High-energy music can motivate you and keep you going while exercising, and can help you stick to a certain pace. Believe me, I’ve responded as intended when instructors “pump them up by pumping up the volume.” But thanks to years at rock concerts as well as high impact aerobic dance classes, I also know the downside that creeps in later on. Loud noise can cause hearing impairment, tinnitus (ringing in your ears), high blood pressure, heart disease, annoyance and stress, and sleep disturbances; immune system changes and birth defects have also been linked with loud noise.
So how do you know if the music around you is too loud? One yardstick is: if a person’s voice has to be raised to be heard by someone three feet away, tone it down. And afterward, signs that you’ve been overexposed include: not hearing well after the noise stops, a high-pitched ringing sound in your ears or head, and a feeling a pressure in your ears. If you do experience these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve caused permanent damage. Hearing loss from noise usually takes a while to develop–months or even years.
On the other hand, several hospital studies exposing patients to natural sounds such as babbling books, wind rustling through trees, and birdsong found that both adult and children benefited—they were calmer and felt less pain. Even 15 minutes of nature sounds reduced stress hormones in cancer patients by 20 to 30%. That helps explain why I’d rather hear a robin singing its heart out than the cacophony of a weight room! And it’s no wonder that some scientists are proposing that exposure to nature is just as important for our heath as exercise and healthy eating. It seems that being in the presence of natural light, trees, flowers, small critters and big sky provides its own kind of nourishment. Just as the landscape affects us, so does the “soundscape.”
I can’t turn back the clock, but I can avoid making things worse. So can you—and perhaps you’re young enough to avoid hearing loss in the first place. Inside a gym, we have no control, but outside, we do—so for your health and safety’s sake, unplug yourself and listen to the natural sounds. Who knows, you might even like it!