The Pleasurable Danger of Loud Music with Exercise

While music has been shown to increase workout intensity and results, do the risks of permanently damaging your hearing outweigh the benefits of increased workout performance?

It all started with a problem: I needed new music to exercise with at the local gym.

After asking one of my closest friends for some suggestions, he mentioned that he may give up music for a short period of time if not entirely. I inquired on why he would commit such a horrible act. Music and exercise are just too perfect of a combination.

But when he had mentioned that mitigating his music use at the gym was actually an effort to prevent hearing damage, I was actually flabbergasted that I had never encountered the same thought. (I was also flabbergasted that anyone could force themselves to listen the gym radio, but that’s beside the point)

The next few times at the gym (and I encourage you to do the same) I closely monitored what level of volume I had been casually listening at throughout the duration of my workout. It was about a hair from the maximum setting. But something about the loud music was enhancing the momentum behind pushing myself.

So that led me to my next question:

Do we throw out the real benefits of exercising to music that we enjoy in order to protect the future of our hearing?

Let’s look at the facts:

According to an article published in Scientific American:

“In the last 10 years the body of research on workout music has swelled considerably, helping psychologists refine their ideas about why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people as well as how music changes the body and mind during physical exertion. Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it” (Jabr).

I find it extraordinarily easy to relate to the above statement. There have been countless times where the perfect song can push out that last rep or sprint. In fact, certain songs can have varying effects on the type of exercise you’re performing. For instance, if you favor running on the treadmill, you’re more likely inclined to match the beats per minute (bpm) of the song you’re listening to the pace of which you are running. Most people prefer to run to a song with 160 bpm. To put that into perspective, the song Hey Ya! by OutKast has a tempo of 160 bpm. (Sorry Rocky fans, but Eye of the Tiger is only 116 bpm, speed it up!) Also, the faster you run can mean a song with a higher bpm is for you, however research suggests that a ceiling effect occurs around 145 beats per minute.

But without delving into the decibel level present in gym classes, which can also be high, how loud can you take the music that gets played from your phone or mp3 into your headphones? What is suggested from the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) is that you should only listen to your devices at 60% maximum volume for a total 1 hour per day. In my case where I was listening to music just below the maximum threshold, the AOA recommends having the volume on max be limited to only 5 minutes per day. So much for a workout.

The ultimate reason I’m shedding light on this subject is because I had gone so blind to the potential consequences. Hearing damage is irreversible, and if our goal at the gym or during a workout is to get healthier and maintain shape, then it shouldn’t be at the expense of our senses.

While I may occasionally crank up the volume during a workout from now on, I think it’s important to find a balance between intensity and volume to better serve my health’s interests.



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