Germs at the Gym

Tips to stay healthy at the gym.

You work out hard at the gym and then head to the locker room to shower and change. You’re doing what you can to stay healthy and fit. But have you ever stopped to think about the fact that the exercise equipment you use and the locker room you shower in may be covered in germs? Ever considered how horrible it would be if your efforts to stay healthy got thwarted by harmful bacteria lurking around the gym?

Bacteria from sweat thrive on gym equipment: weights, cardio machines, weight benches, and used towels. In wet, warm areas such as swimming pool decks and locker rooms, bacteria, fungi, and viruses thrive. The last thing you want while trying to stay healthy is an infection from your gym.

So the next time you’re at the gym, take these precautions to lower your risk of infection.

In the Gym

Before choosing which gym to join, it’s smart to consider more than just the monthly fee or exercise equipment. Take a tour and note the cleanliness of the facility. Are the machines clean and dry? Are the lockers, showers, toilets, floors, and sinks clean and sanitary? Are the pool and hot tub clean? Feel free to ask the staff how frequently the gym is cleaned and whether the pool’s chemical balance gets checked regularly.

At the same time, don’t trust the janitor or previous patrons to adequately clean your cardio equipment or weights. Studies have shown that more than 60 percent of gym equipment have the cold virus on them. Therefore, it’s a smart idea to wipe surfaces you’ll come in contact with—whether hand rails, weights, or seat cushions—with a disinfectant wipe or paper towel with disinfectant before and after use.

Besides washing equipment, be sure to wash or sanitize your hands before and after working out.

In the Locker Room

Skin infections such as jock itch, yeast infections, ringworm, toenail fungus, plantar warts, athlete’s foot, and other skin infections are easily spread in a place like a locker room. You can fight off these unwanted visitors with a few cleaning tips.

Since bacteria quickly multiply in sweaty clothes, it’s a smart idea to shower and change clothes soon after working out. Wash your workout clothes and socks after each workout and be sure to wash your towel frequently in hot, soapy water.

While in the locker room, sauna, or steam room, or when you’re lounging by the pool, wear flip-flops or shower shoes to protect your feet from contracting an infection. After washing your feet, dry them thoroughly, especially between your toes, before putting socks and shoes on again. If you’re prone to athlete’s foot, apply powder to your feet prior to putting on your socks.

Never share towels or other personal items (comb, brush, razor, make-up, soap, water bottle) in the locker room. Viruses and infections can be spread through sharing such items. Also, keep your towel or clean clothes from touching the floor.

If you have a cut on your skin, cover the area with a waterproof bandage. If you have an open wound or skin infection, be courteous to others and avoid the hot tub, pool, or other common areas until it is fully healed. And even though your water bottle contains your own germs, you don’t want them to multiply. It’s a good idea to regularly clean your water bottle with hot, soapy water after each workout.

Worst Case Scenarios

Think gym cleanliness doesn’t matter? Think again. If you’re not careful, you can get serious conditions, such as E. (Escherichia) coli and HPV (human papillomavirus) by not taking gym cleanliness seriously.

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