How Those New Year’s Resolutions Could Hurt Your Hearing

By Diane Nens, audiologist and senior clinical director, UnitedHealthcare Hearing ~

More than 71 million Americans each year work out in health clubs with the goal to improve their strength and fitness. Gyms are an especially popular destination this time of year, as scores of Coloradoans are pursuing health-related New Year’s Resolutions.

But for some, those gym visits could be contributing to something else: noise-induced hearing loss. In fact, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 19% of people ages 19 and 29 already experience some degree of hearing loss, in part due to consistent exposure to loud sounds doing everyday activities. During the coming years, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1.1 billion young people are at risk of developing hearing problems, with excessive exposure to loud sounds – especially the use of personal audio devices such as smartphones – a key contributing factor.

People should be conscientious about exposure to high-decibel noises in all settings; however, the gym presents several potentially overlooked sources of loud sounds. Here are three tips to help maintain your hearing health during and after your next gym visit: 

Limit the use of earbuds and lower the volume: Earbud headphones are nearly ubiquitous at the gym, and for good reason: Studies show listening to fast-paced music can actually improve stamina and boost mood. But the prolonged use of earbuds – especially at high volume – can damage hearing cells. Earbuds typically sit deeper in the ear canal than traditional over-the-ear headphones, thus putting hearing follicles at greater risk of damage.

Even more concerning, health clubs are often loud places to begin with, prompting some people to further crank up the volume on their digital devices to drawn out the background noise. Instead, people should opt for noise-cancelling headphones and follow the 60/60 rule, which means limiting earbuds to 60 minutes at a time and 60% of the player’s maximum volume. In fact, the WHO is advocating for the adoption of “safe listening” features for smartphones, including the use of software that tracks the level and duration of the user’s exposure to sound.

Protect your hearing during group fitness classes: Fitness classes such as spinning or cross training are great ways to stay motivated, and studies show working out in a group offers additional health benefits compared to going solo. But high-intensity fitness classes often play music exceeding 95 decibels, which is a level that can – over time – contribute to hearing loss. The risk is even greater for fitness-class instructors due to consistent exposure to loud music over many years. In fact, one study found that fitness-class instructors experience higher rates of hearing loss than the broader population. A potential solution: Some clubs make available free foam earplugs for class attendees, or you can bring a reusable pair to help provide protection. When selecting your spot for class, look for locations as far away as possible from the speakers.        

Post-workout recovery: Most people agree that eating a balanced diet is a key component to a successful fitness regimen. But loading up healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can also contribute to hearing health. That’s because foods rich in potassium, zinc and magnesium – such as bananas, spinach and yogurt – can provide important nutrients to help maintain hearing health as people age.

Consistent exercise is important to maintaining physical and mental well-being. By following these tips, you can reap the potential health benefits of exercise while reducing the risk of noise-induced hearing loss.

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