Gym Noise – Judith – Janice you are right!!

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Gyms are places where many of us go to get healthy, fit and fabulous. Simply put, the intent is to get better rather than worse. To my chagrin and the collective chagrins of my fellow gym aficionados, more than once, we have left spin classes with not just sore legs and rears but sore and ringing ears. The latter is the problematic part, the former par for the course.

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A paper titled Noise levels in fitness classes still too high was published in the Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health last month. As its title suggests, it backs up what many of us have long hypothesised – that sound levels in high-intensity gym classes are often way too high.

85 per cent of instructors found loud music motivating, whereas about one-fifth of clients found it stressful.

As part of the study, noise levels were tested during 35 low-intensity and 65 high-intensity classes in 1997-98 and again in 2009-11. The study assessed noise levels at four different gyms – two large gyms in Newcastle, north of Sydney, for the first study and eight separate gyms in Sydney for the second. Seven of those were Fitness First branches, which operate nationally. Permission was obtained from the management and instructors of the participating gyms to measure noise levels during selected classes and questionnaires distributed to clients and instructors.

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Instructors and clients were asked about their preferred music volume levels and whether they found loud music “stressful” or “motivating”. Turns out, instructors prefer much higher volumes than clients for high-intensity classes. In both studies, about 85 per cent of instructors found loud music motivating, whereas about one-fifth of clients found it stressful.

Noise levels in both time periods were similar, averaging at about 93.1 decibels. Noise levels in low-intensity classes dropped from 88.9dB to 85.6dB. Happily that means classes like yoga are getting quieter, and given their very nature that makes sense, but sound levels in, for example, spin classes, are still spinning out of control.

Janette Thorburn, principal audiologist at Australian Hearing, says it is “astonishing” that some gyms are playing music at these levels. “We know that one gym in the United States has recorded a level of 106dB in a spin class,” she says. “That is insane. If you are an instructor and you do a few classes back to back at high levels it is definitely damaging to your hearing.”

This type of recreational noise is becoming more of a concern for Australian Hearing, Thorburn says. “Our research arm is now looking at noise levels in gyms. The Australian standard is 85dB of continuous noise over eight hours. If you raise the levels to 91dB then you can only be exposed for two hours safely and so on. Recreational noise is a hugely ignored public health problem.”

So what if your ears are ringing after spinning up a storm to Don Henley’s Boys of Summer? “This is a form of tinnitus,” Thorburn says. “It’s our ears signalling to us that the next step is damage and that if you keep going back, you will be asking for more damage, we are now seeing more and more people walking away with this type of ringing in the ears after high intensity gym classes.”

The author of the paper, research psychologist at the National Acoustic Laboratories, Elizabeth Beach, says it’s time for more awareness around the issue. “Fitness class providers are trying to make their classes like nightclubs to entice people in the doors which is not necessary,” she says. “Another strategy could be to vary tempo as opposed to turning the volume up to dangerous levels.” About 14 per cent of young Australians (aged 18-35) are being exposed to noise levels that are over the safe work place limit. The damage is often done during their leisure time when they listen to loud music on electronic devices or visit nightclubs or live concert venues. Often the damage is done, Beach says, and because hearing issues often don’t materialise until later in life, people tend to put off worrying about it.

“Hearing loss may not become evident for another 20 years but that’s why we talk about tinnitus now,” she says. “People need to imagine what it is like to have that tinnitus not go away. The human system is not designed to hear sounds like the ones pumping out of gym speakers over a long period of time, we simply have not evolved to deal with those sorts of sound levels.”

I have complained about decibel levels at my gym many times, in particular in instructors’ spin classes, only to be told to “wear ear plugs if you can’t handle it”. Question is, if members do develop hearing problems in the future could these matters be ones for the courts to handle? Do gyms have a duty of care to members?

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Fitness First classes operate the same classes at all their branches across Australia. Head of fitness, Rob Hale, says: “We are guided by all relevant occupation health and safety standards, and actively participated in the noise study conducted in 2009-2011 to gain a better understanding of noise levels. We will continue to monitor our noise levels within our clubs to ensure that the approach remains consistent, and that all our staff understand the importance of maintaining the prescribed audio levels.”

Elizabeth Beach believes the onus is on gyms to look after patrons. She says that if you feel the music is too loud in your class, you should approach your instructor. “What’s worrying though is that instructors prefer higher noise levels than clients, suggesting that efforts to reduce noise levels may meet with some resistance. Given the possible health risks from excessively loud music, the fitness industry is encouraged to re-examine the role of loud music and to creatively explore new ways to motivate clients so that instructors’ hearing is protected and clients’ needs are met.”

Could it be that your gym is also pumping up the volume to unsafe levels? Beach hypothesises that indeed a trend appears be forming. “In my opinion the problem is widespread and you could expect to encounter similar noise levels wherever fitness classes are set to music. In another study we’ve done recently, we have another 32 recordings from fitness classes (some Fitness First and some independents) and the noise figures are very similar, a rule of thumb is that if you think the music is way too loud then it probably is.”

All About Environmental Toxins

All About Environmental Toxins

by Brian St. Pierre, September 17th, 2012.

Summary: Environmental toxins are cancer-causing chemicals and endocrine disruptors, both human-made and naturally occurring, that can harm our health by disrupting sensitive biological systems. Here, we review what endocrine disruptors are, where they come from, and how to minimize exposure to help protect you and your family from their potentially dangerous effects.

What Are Environmental Toxins?

Environmental toxins include naturally occurring compounds such as:

  • lead;
  • mercury;
  • radon;
  • formaldehyde;
  • benzene; and
  • cadmium.

They also include human-made chemicals like:

  • BPA;
  • phthalates; and
  • pesticides.

In toxic doses, all of these compounds can negatively affect human health.  Many of them are known to:

  • cause cancer (radon, formaldehyde, benzene);
  • act as endocrine disruptors (BPA, pesticides, phthalates); and
  • cause organ failure or developmental problems (lead, mercury, cadmium)

Lead toxicity is a well-known example. People are generally aware of potential sources of lead, such as old paint and old pipes.

Cadmium toxicity was first realized in the 50s and 60s, and policies now limit industrial exposure.

Mercury is also a well-known toxin.

While these three environmental toxins are well-known, this article will focus on the compounds that are ubiquitous in our environment, but aren’t as well regulated.  It will also suggest ways you can decrease your exposure to them.

Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine disruptors include a wide range of substances, both natural and human-made, that may interfere with the body’s endocrine (hormone and cell signaling) system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.

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Action of endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors usually mimic estrogen and are found in many everyday products we use, including:

  • some plastic bottles and containers;
  • food can liners;
  • detergents;
  • flame retardants;
  • toys;
  • cosmetics; and
  • pesticides.

In particular, the industrially produced compounds bisphenol A (BPA), pesticides, and phthalates are among the most potentially dangerous.

Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming. Pregnant or breast-feeding women, or women planning on becoming pregnant, should be the most cautious.

BPA: What is it, where is it, and how do I get less of it?

Much of the concern about endocrine disruptors has focused on BPA, a compound that is widely used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that are used in food and drink packaging, water and baby bottles, metal can linings, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. In addition, BPA can also be found in thermal paper receipts, though the amount of exposure from these particular products is thought to be minimal.

Low-dose exposure to BPA may produce a wide variety of physiological problems, including:

  • obesity;
  • infertility;
  • aggressive behavior;
  • early onset of puberty;
  • hormone-dependent cancers such as prostate and breast cancer; and
  • lower testosterone levels and sperm production.

BPA exposure occurs when the chemical leaches out from the product into food and water, especially when plastic containers are washed, heated or stressed. The highest estimated daily intakes of BPA occur in infants and children.

In fact 93% of children 6 years of age and older have detectable levels of BPA in their urine, and a 2011 study found that 96% of American women also have detectable levels. In September 2010, Canada became the first country to declare BPA a toxic substance; the European Union and Canada now ban BPA in baby bottles.

The good news is that BPA exits the body quickly. A 2011 study found that when participants ate their usual diets, followed by three days of consuming foods that were not canned or packaged, BPA levels in their urine decreased by 66%.

To reduce exposure to BPA:

  • Minimize use of plastic containers with the #7 or #3 on the bottom.
  • Don’t microwave plastic food containers, and don’t wash them in the dishwasher or with harsh detergents.
  • Reduce use of canned foods and eat mostly fresh or frozen foods.
  • When possible opt for glass, porcelain or stainless steel cups, containers, water bottles and travel mugs.
  • Use baby bottles that are BPA free (or better yet use glass bottles) and look for toys labeled BPA free.

Pesticides: What are they, where are they, and how do I reduce my exposure?

Pesticides are any substance used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life that are deemed pests. This includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, disinfectants, and compounds used to control rodents. In the US, over 4.5 billion pounds of pesticides are used each year.

Most conventional food production uses pesticides, so people are exposed to low levels of pesticide residues through their diets. While the health effects of pesticide residues are not entirely clear, research from the National Institute of Health showed that farmers who use agricultural insecticides experience an increase in headaches, fatigue, insomnia, dizziness, hand tremors, and other neurological symptoms, while licensed pesticide applicators have a 20-200% increased risk of developing diabetes.

Other data found that individuals reporting regular exposure to pesticides had a 70% higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease than those reporting no exposure.

It also appears that children are particularly susceptible to adverse effects from exposure to pesticides, specifically neuro-developmental problems. This is probably because children eat more food relative to their size. They also play in the dirt and spend time on the ground, where pesticides may linger.

To reduce exposure to pesticides:

  • Wash and scrub all fruits and vegetables, organic or conventional.
  • If possible purchase mostly organic fruits and vegetables, particularly the ones consistently found to have the highest pesticide residues – apples, strawberries, celery, peaches and spinach.
  • Grow your own!

Phthalates: What are they, where are they, and how do I reduce my exposure?

Phthalates are chemicals used to soften plastics. They are found in a wide variety of products, including bottles, shampoo, cosmetics, lotions, nail polish, and deodorant. At one time most flexible plastics contained high levels of phthalates. Fortunately, they are being phased out in the US and Europe due to emerging recognition of their risks.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institute of Health, has found that pre-natal exposure to phthalates is associated with adverse genital development and can significantly reduce masculine behavior in boys. Women with high exposure to phthalates while pregnant report significantly more disruptive behavior in their children, while other research by NIEHS has found phthalate exposure can lead to thyroid dysfunction in adults.

Fortunately, as with BPA, if exposure is decreased, phthalates quickly exit the body. The same study that found a large decrease in BPA levels a mere three days after participants stopped eating canned and packaged foods also found that phthalate levels in the urine decreased by 53-56% during the same time period.

To reduce phthalate exposure:

  • Minimize use of plastics with the recycling code #3.
  • Use PVC-free containers. Buy plastic wrap and bags made from polyethylene and use glass containers. If you do use plastic containers, do not heat or microwave them.
  • Choose phthalate-free toys. Many large toymakers have pledged to stop using phthalates, but be sure to look for toys made from polypropylene or polyethylene.
  • Purchase phthalate-free beauty products. Avoid nail polish, perfumes, colognes, and other scented products that list phthalates as an ingredient. Many scented products simply list “fragrance” as an ingredient, which often incorporates a number of different chemicals including phthalates. Try to minimize these products, or for more information on phthalate-free cosmetics and personal care products, visit the National Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group, which maintains a database on cosmetic products and their ingredients.

Carcinogens

Hundreds of chemicals are capable of inducing cancer in humans or animals after prolonged or excessive exposure. Chemically-induced cancer generally develops many years after exposure to a toxic agent. For example, mesothelioma (a form of lung cancer) may take 30 years to emerge after asbestos exposure.

In 2010, the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel Report declared:

“The true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated… this group of carcinogens has not been addressed adequately by the National Cancer Program. The American people – even before they are born – are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.”

According to the report there are about 80,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States, but only about 2% of those have been assessed for their safety.

The Cancer Panel report singles out radon, formaldehyde, and benzene as major environmental toxins that are causing cancer.

Radon: What is it, where is it, and how do I get less of it?

Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium or thorium found in nearly all soils and it typically moves up through the ground and into the home through cracks in floors, walls, and foundations.

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Radon movement from ground to home.

It can also be released from building materials or from well water. Radon breaks down quickly, giving off radioactive particles. Long-term exposure to these particles can lead to lung cancer.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year, with 1 in 20 US homes having elevated levels. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the leading cause among non-smokers.

Many radon-related lung cancer deaths can be prevented by testing for radon and taking the necessary steps to lower radon levels in homes that have elevated radon. This process is known as radon mitigation.

To reduce radon exposure:

  • Get your home air checked. It is simple and inexpensive.
  • If you use a well, check your water also.

Formaldehyde: What is it, where is it, and how do I get less of it?

Formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable, strong-smelling chemical that is used in building materials and in the manufacture of many household products. It also occurs naturally in the environment and is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes. Several government agencies have classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.

Formaldehyde sources in the home include pressed-wood products such as particleboard and plywood, glues and adhesives, permanent press fabrics, cigarette smoke, and fuel-burning appliances. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.

Research studies of workers exposed to formaldehyde have suggested an association between formaldehyde exposure and several cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia. Rats exposed to formaldehyde fumes developed nasal cancer.

To reduce formaldehyde exposure:

  • Use “exterior-grade” pressed-wood products to limit formaldehyde exposure in the home.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation and moderate temperatures.
  • Reduce humidity levels with air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
  • Go natural and grow plants in your home.

Benzene: What is it, where is it, and how do I get less of it?

Benzene is a colourless liquid that evaporates quickly. It is naturally found in crude oil and is a basic petrochemical. Unfortunately, it is also a known human carcinogen.

Benzene is found in tobacco smoke, gasoline (and therefore car exhaust), pesticides, synthetic fibres, plastics, inks, oils, and detergents. Benzene has also been found in dryer emissions from scented laundry detergent and dryer sheets, and in soft drinks, although these have since been reformulated to exclude it.

About 50% of the benzene exposure in the US results from smoking tobacco or from second-hand smoke.

Substantial amounts of data link benzene to aplastic anemia, bone marrow abnormalities, and leukemia — particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute non-lymphocytic leukemia (ANLL).

To reduce benzene exposure:

  • Don’t smoke and try to avoid second hand smoke.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation in your home.
  • Use non-scented laundry detergents.
  • Keep plants in the home.

Conclusions – What Does It All Mean?

Environmental toxins can cause serious health effects when exposure is allowed to accumulate, but it is important to remember that the poison is in the dose. Problems usually result from prolonged or excessive exposure; the occasional use of a plastic cup probably won’t hurt you!

While it is impossible to completely eliminate exposure (and it might drive you crazy to try!), a few simple steps will go a long way towards protecting you and your family:

  • Decrease use of plastic – transition to glass, stainless steel and porcelain containers, glasses and mugs.
  • Wash all produce, and if possible purchase organic options from the Dirty Dozen.
  • Use fewer products with the term “fragrance.”
  • Get your home air and water checked for radon.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Keep plenty of plants in the home.

There’s no need to freak out over occasional exposure to environmental toxins. Just look for simple ways to reduce your everyday exposure. Make changes slowly, one at a time, in a manageable way, and you will decrease your risk with minimal stress.

References

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences – National Institute of Health

Rudel RA, et al. Food packaging and bisphenol A and bis(2-ethyhexyl) phthalate exposure: findings from a dietary intervention. Environ Health Perspect. 2011 Jul;119(7):914-20.

Smith, MT. Advances in understanding benzene health effects and susceptibility. Ann Rev Pub Health. 2010;31:133–48.

Swan SH, et al. Prenatal phthalate exposure and reduced masculine play in boys. Int J Androl. 2010 Apr;33(2):259-69.

Braun JM, et al. Impact of Early-Life Bisphenol A Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children. Pediatrics. 2011; 128(5):873-882