Pumping it up too much: iPods may be set to excessive volumes during exercise

22 January 2010

Listening to an iPod while working out feels like second nature to most people. But Bill Hodgetts, PhD, says we need to consider the listening levels on our earphones while working up a sweat at the gym.

"People generally listen to music at reasonable levels of volume, but we've found that exercising, mainly because of the background noise, can influence people to turn up the volume to potentially unsafe levels for the ear," explains Hodgetts, assistant professor, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta.

In his study published in the International Journal of Audiology in December, participants listened to the same song on an iPod while resting in a quiet environment, resting in a noisy environment and while exercising on a stationary bike in a noisy environment (as if they were in a gym). Using iPod earphones, or "earbuds," the participants' listening levels were recorded and results showed that preferred listening levels increased during rest in a noisy environment to potentially dangerous levels and the addition of exercise induced even further increases.

"Heavier breathing and the distracting sounds from the exercise machines could be factors," said Hodgetts. "People also like to make the music louder because it pumps them up."

The study subjects increased the volume to about 75 per cent of the maximum volume on their iPods in order to enjoy the song while working out, a level that may put them at risk of hearing loss, depending on the listening duration.

But Hodgetts is quick to tell everyone that this isn't a cause for alarm. "Don't stop exercising. Don't stop listening to your iPod. If listening to music helps you exercise, keep doing it."

Hodgetts' solution is very simple: get better earphones.

"The gym is a noisy place. Background noise is the main factor in why people will raise the volume on their personal playlist. Any earphones that reduce the background noise, either with an active noise cancelling circuit or just a good tight seal, will allow people to still enjoy their music without having to turn it up so loud," he said.

"It's a small price to pay to protect your hearing."

Photo by Laurie Wang

About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.