303 redhead plugging earsAs motivating as that cranked-up bassy dubstep (or metal, or hip-hop) might be for your workout, do you have any idea what it’s slowly doing to your very ability to hear anything at all? We all love our music; in fact, studies regularly show that, especially when exercising, music inspires us to work harder and longer. The more upbeat and driving, the more we try to keep up. And we are turning it up. When was the last time you tried to ask a fellow gym goer a question only to be rendered completely invisible by his or her encapsulated, disconnected, ear bud cocoon? Not only is this dangerous in so many ways “Hey, man- watch out- flying kettlebell”, but he is inflicting irreversible damage to the tiny hair cells in the ear that detect sound. Let me reiterate: irreversible. Once your hearing is gone, you don’t get it back.

You probably already know that sound is measured in decibels (dB). What you might not know is how loud normal, everyday activities are- or how quickly those levels can escalate. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published safety guidelines with regards to dB levels. Here’s a sampling:

dB Noise Level                           EPA Noise Exposure Limit

70 dB                                                  24 hours

79 dB                                                   3 hours

82 dB                                                   1 hour, 30 minutes

97 dB                                                   3 minutes

102 dB                                                 53 seconds

107 dB                                                16.7 seconds

117 dB                                                 1.7 seconds

Where's the 11?

Where’s the 11?

So what does all of this mean? 70 dB, for example, represents noise level similar to that of taking a shower, running the dishwasher, or having exposure to a busy street during the day. Stuff we can tolerate 24 hours per day, according to the EPA.

Studies related to dB levels in gyms, especially those with a discernible amount of background noise, suggest that most people who plug in to their own music are listening at an average of 75%  max volume. We’re talking about levels of 100 dB and up. Sporting events and rock concerts run around 105-115dB (by the way, did you know that everyone on stage and backstage at any music concert is protecting their own hearing? You might want to seriously consider following suit). Prolonged exposure to these levels day in and day out are a surefire way to destroy your ears.

I’ve read several articles that suggest one of the most common injuries for fitness instructors isn’t knee damage or muscle sprains– but hearing loss. That’s a bit out of control if you ask me. No one has authority over the health of your ears. If you feel the music being played is too loud, do something about it. Believe me, I am one of those annoying types who will demand that a movie theater turn down the volume on certain movies if I feel endangered. Ear plugs are great, too.

In today’s world of super-smart people creating super-useful applications we can get on our phones, I have come across a few sound meter apps to measure exactly how loud the environment is. So far I love the Smart Tools Sound Meter (free) and NoiseMeter by JINASYS (also free). How lucky are we?

Listen up. Pay attention. You are your own advocate. Demand a safe environment. Speak up. It’s your hearing we’re talking about.

PT-color-headshot-I3Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She currently contributes to 303 Magazine as a Fitness and Health writer. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected]