recreational noise facts: playing it loud isn't playing it smart

Some recreational activities are dangerously loud and will cause permanent damage to our hearing. Additionally, many recreational activities create loud noises which interfere with the peace and quiet of the community.

“The louder the better” message allures the public into equating noise with power and carries a dangerous risk. Noise is one of the leading causes of hearing loss in the 28 million people with impaired hearing in the United States. Studies also indicate that noise negatively impacts the health and quality of life of millions of Americans. Recent health statistics suggest that the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss is occurring at younger and younger ages. In a recent study by the Center for Hearing and Communication (1998), 46% of third-graders reported that their ears ring sometimes (a warning sign of a potential noise-induced hearing loss). Recreational activities contribute to the cumulative effects of excessive noise exposure.

how loud is too loud

To know if a sound is loud enough to cause damage to your ears, it is important to know both the level of intensity (measured in decibels, dBA) and the length of exposure to the sound. In general, the louder the sound, the less time required before hearing will be affected. Experts agree that continued exposure to noise above 85 dBA will eventually harm your hearing. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that hearing protection be worn in the workplace when loudness levels and exposure time exceed the allowable standards. For example, 15 minutes exposure at 115 dBA is considered dangerous to hearing and even an exposure of less than 2 minutes at 130 dBA may be hazardous to hearing. While regulations exist to protect a person’s hearing in the workplace, similar regulations do not exist to protect the public’s hearing in recreational activities. Further, the noise emitted from many recreational activities, at levels well below 85 dBA, has been found to negatively impact the health and quality of life of neighboring community members.

Some examples of dangerously loud recreational activities

  • Noise levels at video arcades can be as high as 110 dBA.
  • Firecrackers create sound levels from 125 – 155 dBA at an average distance of 10 feet.
  • Sound levels at live music concerts can be measured at 120 dBA and beyond.
  • The noise level of gunshots can be measured at 150 dBA -167 dBA and hearing loss can result from just a few shots of a high powered gun, if appropriate hearing protection is not worn.
  • Noise levels at movie theaters have been measured up to 118 dBA.
  • Sound levels in health clubs and aerobic studios can be as high as 120 dBA.
  • Personal stereo systems with headphones produce sounds as loud as 105 – 120 dBA if turned up to maximum levels.
  • Sound levels at a sporting event can be measured up to 127 dBA.
  • Motorboats emit sound levels ranging from 85 – 115 dBA.
  • Motorcycles have been measured at levels ranging from 95 – 120 dBA.
  • Noise levels of snowmobiles are as high as 99 dBA.
  • Many children’s toys emit sounds which are measured at 135 dBA -150 dBA.

what to do

Recognize that loud recreational activities not only pose a risk to hearing, but also can impact on your neighbor’s right to peace and quiet. Whenever possible, turn down the volume or ask the offender to do so. Limit exposure time to noisy activities and wear adequate hearing protection even if you think you are having fun. A rule of thumb: If you have to shout in order to be heard three feet away, then the noise is probably too loud and could be damaging to your hearing. In these instances, use hearing protection. 

noise in gyms and health clubs

Are gyms and health clubs too loud?

A study by Raymond H. Hull, Ph.D. (1991) found that 80% of the health clubs and spas consistently played music which exceeded 105 dBA over one hour periods and the intensity of the instructor’s voice using an FM head-mounted transmitter averaged 5 dBA above this level. 60% of the health clubs and spas studied used music and FM-transmitted voice which exceeded 110 dBA. Sound levels in a few health clubs exceeded 120 dBA for 30-minute classes. These levels pose a serious risk to hearing. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Criteria Document recommends that the maximum exposure time in the workplace at 110 dBA is one minute and 29 seconds and at 120 dBA, the maximum exposure time would be only 9 seconds.

pump up your muscles, not the volume

To ensure safe listening levels at your health club, the International Association of Fitness Professionals recommends that music intensity during group exercise classes should measure no more than 90 dBA. Additionally, they recommend that the instructor’s voice should measure no more than 100 dBA. The Association urges facilities to place a sound level meter on a stand near the front or middle of the group exercise room to get a continuous measure of sound levels during class and that instructors should check the sound level meter often to determine safe levels. It is also important for instructors to use methods other than volume to motivate a class.

what to do

While you’re working out, take these simple steps to make sure that you’re not damaging your hearing:

  • Pay attention to the volume in your exercise classes – if it sounds too loud, it probably is.
  • Ask the instructor to turn down the volume in the class.
  • Request the Opinion Statement on Recommendations for Music Volume in Fitness Classes from the International Association of Fitness Professionals at 800-999-4332 and show this Fact Sheet and the Opinion Statement to the manager of your health club
  • When possible, move further away from speakers.
  • If using headphones, play the music at safe listening levels. Rule of thumb: If you cannot hear other people talking when you are wearing the headphones or if other people have to shout to you to be heard at three feet away while the headphones are on, it is too loud.
  • Wear adequate hearing protection, such as foam ear plugs or a variety of other types of ear plugs if the music sounds too loud.