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The last thing I need while running or cycling is music. For me, part of the enjoyment of physical activity is the opportunity it provides to daydream.

For me, running has always been that time to generate new ideas or solve old problems. Plus I think I like using all of my senses, especially when I am out on the roads and trails.

Unfortunately, I may be in the minority. It seems like I see increasing numbers of people out on the streets with iPods. Not long ago, a popular running website published an article featuring the benefits of listening to music while running. It took me a while to realize that this particular piece was actually a paid advertisement sponsored by a well-known company that makes portable music devices.Coincidence or not, this cleverly disguised ad just happened to appear shortly following a well-publicized story linking hearing impairment to use of portable music devices.

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, the prevalence of hearing loss in the U.S. has doubled in the last 30 years, affecting more than 28 million Americans. Clinical audiology professor Robert Novak of Purdue University believes a big reason for the increase in Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) is the use of portable music devices, which were introduced in 1979. Recently he has been randomly examining college students and finding a level of hearing loss normally seen in middle-age adults.

The extent of NIHL depends on loudness, pitch, and length of exposure to sound. Lawn mowers, motorcycles, jet skis, snowmobiles, power tools, guns, many toys, and loud music pumped through headphones can all affect hearing. The problem is, once you damage your hearing, the impairment becomes permanent. Are you willing to take that risk?

Sound that is projected through speakers is required to travel through distance and has a chance to dissipate. MP3 players, on the other hand, are made to blast music directly into the ear canal with very little leakage of sound.

Listening to music on MP3s or other portable devices for hours each day has become a trend amoung teens. If and when hearing problems develop, they just turn up the volume to compensate. This practice worries hearing experts such as Professor Novak, who claims to be seeing more and more patients with older ears on younger bodies.

To protect your hearing, wear earplugs anytime you are exposed to loud noises, and by all means tone it down when you listen to music through headphones. Cut back on the time you spend listening and give your ears an occasional break. Hearing experts from Boston Childrens Hospital say it is safe to listen to your MP3 player or iPod at 60% volume for 1 hour a day.

Take my advice. When you are outside, learn to run without music,and allow your mind work on something else to avoid boredom. If you must listen to music while you run or workout, keep the volume as low as possible. And do me a favor- stay off the trails!

Hearing is something you want to preserve for a lifetime. What did you say?

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