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Music and Your Workout

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Watch the Volume

Take it easy on your ears.

In the short run, there are few consequences to listening to music too loudly, says audiologist Marshall Chasin, director of auditory research at the Musicians' Clinics of Canada. Blasting music on your iPod during a workout may lead to slight pressure, ringing in your ears, and temporary hearing loss. In most cases, hearing will recover fully in about 16-18 hours, Chasin says.

But if you make it a habit, listening to very loud music on headphones can cause permanent damage, says Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Boston Children's Hospital.

In some severe cases, people who blast their music for extended periods of time may develop chronic tinnitus -- permanent ringing in the ear. Follow Fligor's advice: If you use headphones, follow the "80 for 90 rule." This means that it is safe to listen to music on a portable device, such as an iPod, at 80% of the maximum level for no more than 90 minutes a day. Any more than that, and you risk overworking the ear, he says.

Moderation is a good plan, Chasin says. "If it's your favorite song, by all means turn up your iPod," he says. "Just turn it down afterward to a reasonable level." And if you overwork your ears one day, keep things quiet for the next few days.

Let's say you cranked the volume too high during a workout on Friday. For the rest of the weekend, limit the volume to 50% or 60% of the maximum level, Chasin says. That won't undo any damage from blasting your music on Friday -- it just prevents super-loud music from becoming a habit.

Fligor also suggests using sound-isolating headphones that hush background noise. That might make it easier to dial down the volume, since you don't have to drown out other sounds.

Just don't wear your headphones if you're exercising outdoors. You need to be able to hear traffic and other things going on around you, for safety's sake.

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Reviewed on February 25, 2014

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