Deaf to the dangers of loud gym music?

Sonic doom: pumping up the volume can result in permanent hearing damage

Sonic doom: pumping up the volume can result in permanent hearing damage

A paper titled Noise levels in fitness classes still too high was published in the Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health last month. As its title suggests, it backs up what many of us have long hypothesised – that sound levels in high-intensity gym classes are often way too high.

85 per cent of instructors found loud music motivating, whereas about one-fifth of clients found it stressful. 

As part of the study, noise levels were tested during 35 low-intensity and 65 high-intensity classes in 1997-98 and again in 2009-11. The study assessed noise levels at four different gyms. Permission was obtained from the management and instructors of the participating gyms to measure noise levels during selected classes and questionnaires distributed to clients and instructors.

Instructors and clients were asked about their preferred music volume levels and whether they found loud music “stressful” or “motivating”. Turns out, instructors prefer much higher volumes than clients for high-intensity classes. In both studies, about 85 per cent of instructors found loud music motivating, whereas about one-fifth of clients found it stressful.

Noise levels in both time periods were similar, averaging at about 93.1 decibels. Noise levels in low-intensity classes dropped from 88.9dB to 85.6dB. Happily that means classes like yoga are getting quieter, and given their very nature that makes sense, but sound levels in, for example, spin classes, are still spinning out of control.

The author of the paper, research psychologist at the National Acoustic Laboratories, Elizabeth Beach, says it’s time for more awareness around the issue. “Fitness class providers are trying to make their classes like nightclubs to entice people in the doors which is not necessary,” she says. “Another strategy could be to vary tempo as opposed to turning the volume up to dangerous levels.” For young people the damage is often done during their leisure time when they listen to loud music on electronic devices or visit nightclubs or live concert venues. Often the damage is done,and because hearing issues often don’t materialise until later in life, people tend to put off worrying about it.

Those who have complained about decibel levels at my gym many times, in particular in instructors’ spin classes, only to be told to “wear ear plugs if you can’t handle it”. Question is, if members do develop hearing problems in the future could these matters be ones for the courts to handle? Do gyms have a duty of care to members?

 A rule of thumb is that if you think the music is way too loud then it probably is.

Anybody who might be concerned about their hearing, can avail of a free hearing test at any Hidden Hearing branch nationwide. You can book a hearing test free of charge at any of Hidden Hearing’s 60 clinics nationwide. Freephone 1800 370 000 or visit http://www.hiddenhearing.ie.

 

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