Fitness Classes Might Harm Your Hearing, Says Expert

Fitness classes are a social, competitive, and exciting trend in the exercise world. But the extremely loud music that often blares during these classes could be hurting your hearing health.

Many people love group fitness classes for their mental and physical benefits, built-in social interactions, and professional instructors, but it’s important to be aware that these classes also present a hidden health risk: excessively loud music that can lead to hearing loss.

“Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a hidden risk of these classes,” HearUSA audiologist Natalie Calderon, Au.D., F-AAA, tells Healthnews. “Especially those that have loud music pumping and instructors shouting.”

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According to Calderon, NIHL occurs when an individual is exposed to excessively loud sounds, either briefly or persistently, leading to damage in the delicate structures of the inner ear. Prolonged exposure to high sound levels can result in NIHL, and exposure to loud noise can also cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Research suggests that the average sound levels in group fitness classes, such as spinning classes, frequently exceed 90 decibels (similar to the volume of an approaching subway train) and sometimes even exceed 100 decibels (as loud as a power lawn mower).

To protect against permanent hearing loss, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health recommends that noise exposure of one hour not exceed 94 decibels and that exposure to levels of 100 decibels not exceed 15 minutes.

While loud music has been found to be a motivating factor in fitness classes, a 2021 study found that those who attend indoor cycling classes do not lower the intensity of their workouts when the volume is reduced to a safer decibel level.

Still, fitness class participants rarely have control over the volume of the music. As a result, Calderon recommends a list of precautions to ensure your ears stay safe while exercising:

  • Limit participation in excessively loud classes/events.
  • Use ear protection. Earplugs are a great option, and they are available at most drugstores.
  • Maintain distance from speakers. Position yourself away from the speakers to decrease your exposure to the loud music. The farther you are from the source of the sound, the lower the intensity.
  • Take breaks. Step outside or to a quieter area during breaks to give your ears a rest. Continuous exposure to loud sounds can increase the risk of hearing damage.
  • Communicate with instructors/gym managers if the overall volume is too uncomfortably loud.
  • Pay attention to any signs of discomfort or ringing in your ears. If you experience these symptoms, it's an indication that the noise level may be too high, and you should take steps to protect your hearing.
  • Regular hearing evaluations: Schedule regular tests with an audiologist to monitor your hearing health. This can help identify any potential issues early on. On average, adults with no hearing concerns should get their hearing checked every three years. If you are regularly exposed to loud noises, you should be getting your hearing checked more regularly, at least annually or as often as advised by your doctor.

It’s also important to be aware of music volume when listening to your own tunes through headphones, Calderon adds. When it comes to personal headsets, she suggests only listening at 60% of the maximum volume for up to 60 minutes at a time.

“You should still be able to hear ambient noise in the environment,” Calderon says. “If a voice needs to be raised to be heard over the music, the volume is too loud.”

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And if you adore group fitness but are interested in trying classes that don’t typically come with blaring music, Calderon recommends trying yoga, pilates, barre, or mind-body classes such as Tai Chi.

“Be aware that prolonged exposure of moderate volumes can also lead to hearing damage over time,” Calderon says. “Be mindful of overall volume levels and allow the ears time to take a break and rest.”

“Be aware that prolonged exposure of moderate volumes can also lead to hearing damage over time,” Calderon says. “Be mindful of overall volume levels and allow the ears time to take a break and rest.”

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