By Chere Lucett
The music was pumping; the bass was so loud my bones were clapping like they were cheering on my muscles. And my ears? They were more exhausted than my legs after class. My hearing was so far gone I couldn’t distinguish between a compliment and a put-down. It went something like this:(Nice woman, trying to give me a compliment) “You have great thighs!”(Me, to my sweat partner sidekick) “Did she just say I look like fries?”Awkward.Music is an important and motivating stimulus that pairs nicely with exercise, until it becomes so overwhelming that you lose your senses. Literally. According to the World Health Organization, over 43 million people aged 12-35 will live with disabling hearing loss. Among those 12-35 living in mid-to-high income countries, 40% are exposed to damaging noise levels at clubs, bars and yes, even group classes. (1)In fact, ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) estimated 38 million people in the United States have impaired hearing, and millions are exposed to dangerous levels of noise in the workplace. Sadly, they estimate that 1 in 4 people with chronic exposure to dangerous noise levels will develop hearing loss. (2)
Clubs and education organizations work tirelessly to help their clients avoid injuries by ensuring safe practices in almost every level of club maintenance. Educators instill safe methodologies and teach instructors how to implement correct techniques to ensure clients avoid injury. However, the most under-recognized and lesser-known danger that may be repeatedly affecting clients (and instructors) is hearing loss.Prolonged exposure to loud sounds for any length of time causes fatigue offing the ear’s sensory cells. The result is a ringing sensation (also known as tinnitus). In addition, voices and other sounds may be muffled as the sensory cells try to regain their normal status. One-time exposure won’t leave a participant deaf, but prolonged and consistent exposure to decibels greater than 90 dB (decibels) could lead to permanent hearing loss. And once these cells are damaged, they can’t be repaired. According to OSHA (Occupational Health and Safety Administration), permissible levels of noise exposure for 60 minutes is 90dB (averaged over an 8 hour period). Going any higher than the recommended levels is dangerous. Exposure time allowed is cut in half for every 5 decibel increase. For example, if a sound is 95 dB, then 4 hours of exposure, over time, will cause hearing loss. (3)
Can you hear me now?
While OSHA set the decibel standards at 90 dBs, they also recognize that an instructor’s voice needs to be heard, and effectively instilled a 10dB increase in the instructor’s volume levels. However, the combined 100dB level exposure should not last longer than 60 minutes – the average length of a Spinning® class. But how does an instructor, or club for that matter, understand what the noise levels are in their facility? First, instructors should understand what is termed the cone of silence. The instructor’s position in relation to the speakers will be different than that of their riders. What the instructor may be hearing will sound different to the individuals in the front row and the back row as well. Sound monitoring through the use of sound meters is the only real way to determine the levels that your music is playing. There are several units that can be placed within a club or group exercise/Spinning room that can help instructors stay within the OSHA guidelines. Many clubs can test and mark their volume knobs so that instructors don’t exceed the standards. You can also download decibel meters to your smart phone or tablet to test these levels. But one of the best ways to learn if the music will be too loud– and it won’t cost any money – is to get up off the bike and walk around the room. Place yourself throughout the room, and if your ears start ringing, you become nervous, you feel stressed out or your heart rate jumps too high, your music is set too loud.
But doesn’t more thump equal more pump?
Music does have the power of motivate you to move with fast-paced tempos and interval beats. But it can also make your clients nervous, anxious and stressed out. Loud noise initiates the body’s responses to stress, releasing adrenaline, restricting blood vessels and increasing blood pressure, all in an effort to signal “danger!” to the person. (4) Don’t forget about the effect that loud noise (above 90dBs) can have on cognition. Research shows that loud noise negatively affects performance, decision-making and memory. (4) According to an earlier study, when we hear very loud noises, we become overly stimulated and our focus becomes narrowed. (5) Ultimately, we are forced to miss details or struggle with complex decision-making because we are cognitively distracted by the loudness. You may think that since individuals are in a Spinning class and won’t be subjected to crossword puzzles during a ride, noise levels won’t be as devastating to an their ability to solve complex issues. Well, you may want to think about this, loud noise may also elicit negative social behavior (ever seen a riot at a concert?). (6)Okay, the latter concerns may seem far-fetched, seeing as the usual Spinning class participants won’t have the energy to riot after an exhilarating 60 minute ride. But remember that very loud noise does have a lasting effect on people. The consequences of repeat exposure to music louder than 90dBs, such as hearing loss, are far more intense than your calorie scorching Spinning session.
- World Health Organization, Make Listening Safe. http://www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/ASHA/Buds/WHO-Make-Listening-Safe-Campaign-Factsheet.pdf#_ga=1.237179456.1317004031.1429465290 retrieved 4/17/2015.
- American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 2001. Preventing hearing loss and tinnitus. www.asha.org/consumers/brochures/prevent_hear.html; retrieved 4/15/2015.
- S. Department of Labor. Occupational Safety and Health Organization. Occupational noise exposure. 1910.95. https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=9735; retrieved 4/15/2015
- Banbury, S. P., Macken, W. J., Tremblay, S., Jones, D. M. (2001) Auditory distraction and short-term memory: Phenomena and practical implications. Factors, 43: 12-29.
- Broadbent, D. E. (1971). Decision and stress. New York: Academic Press.
- Salas, E., Driskell, and Hughes, S. (1996). Introduction: The study of stress and human performance. In Stress and Human Performance. Driskell, J. E. and Salas, E. eds. Lawrence Erlbaum, New Jersey, pp 1-45.