With COVID-19 cases on the rise again in
South Korea, the government has introduced a fresh slew of curbs to contain the
pandemic. Among the restrictions, there are several that specifically target
gym-goers and other fitness enthusiasts.

The restrictions include: people using
the treadmill should limit their speed to under 6kmph; and exercise involving
groups such as aerobics, Zumba and cycling should be performed while playing
music under 120 beats per minute.

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The restriction on music in terms of
beats per minute is unique and has attracted global attention. South Korean
authorities say that the such curbs are being placed so that gyms can remain
open. The country is logging over 1,000 COVID-19 cases a day over the last few

Why these curbs on music?

Seoul authorities say that fast music
and strenuous exercise can generate more respiratory droplets, thereby
increasing the risk of transmission. Many, however, have criticised the rules
calling them ‘illogical and nonsensical’.

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“Many people use their own earphones and
wearable devices these days, how to you control their playlists,” said a
gym-owner in Seoul.

CDC’s rules on gyms

Us Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
has advised that gyms should be well-ventilated, and training should be
conducted with a distance of six feet, with people wearing a cloth face
covering or mask.

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What is beats per minute?

Beats per minute is a
quantitative way to decide how fast a musical track is. It conveys the tempo of
the track. For instance, a track with 60bpm means that there are 60 beats per
minute or one beath every second. A track with 120bpm means that it plays two
beats per second and is twice as fast.

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This means that while gym-goers in Seoul
can listen to Lady Gaga’s track “Bad Romance” that plays 119 bpm, they cannot
listen to Elvis Presley’s song titled, “Mystery train” that plays 121 bpm.
Neither will gym-goers be able to play the popular Korean track “Gangnam
style”, which plays at 132 bpm, according to The Indian Express.

Relationship between exercise and high tempo

In 2007, the US Track and Field banned
runners from using headphones and portable audio devices during official races.
This was done for the safety of runners and to prevent some runners from
developing a competitive edge. 

There is some research that when people
perform endurance exercises such as walking, listening to high-tempo music can
reduce the perceived effort involved in the exercise, leading to an increase in
benefits. High tempo music can distract people from the discomfort of exercise.