Deaf to Danger: The Perils of Earbuds

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By now, most us have learned to curb the urge to update our status, check our e-mail, and fire off "I'm running late!" texts while behind the wheel. But we still zone out to music or fiddle with our iThings while walking, jogging, or biking. The problem? Distracted exercising may come with risks similar to those of distracted driving: Last year, for the first time in four years, pedestrian deaths rose, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. And experts are blaming our beloved, never-leave-home-without-'em gadgets.

As a result, some state lawmakers are trying to crack down on exercise multitasking. In New York, for instance, a pending bill would make it illegal for walkers and joggers to use any kind of electronic device while crossing the street. Measures in Oregon and Virginia, if passed, would fine bicyclists as much as $90 for riding under the influence of technology. While these proposals may not become enforceable laws (unlike with distracted driving, you're usually putting only yourself at risk), they make one thing clear: Tuning out during a workout can be very hazardous to your health.

Hear No Evil

Hit any busy jogging path or park and you'll have an easier time counting the people who aren't wearing earbuds than those who are. Thirty-five percent of WH readers told us in an online poll that when exercising outdoors, they always listen to music--and that their tunes are as essential as their sneaks and sports bra.

Music isn't distracting only because it siphons off your ability to hear other noises like a car or--super scary--an attacker approaching, says Diana Deutsch, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of California at San Diego who researches the perception of sound. "Music floods the brain and takes over your thought processes," she explains.

"You concentrate on the lyrics, or the music evokes certain memories or sends you into a daydream." Some scientists speculate that music may even have the power to dampen your sight. "The tempo can interfere with the rate at which your brain perceives images that are passing by you, which could trip you up," says Deutsch. In short, music draws your attention away from what you're doing and increases your risk of literally running into a dangerous situation like an oncoming bus, a malicious stranger, or a lamppost.

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