Avoid Getting Sick at the Gym

Monday, February 11, 2013

     The gym is a place you go to get healthy, but, how do you know you aren’t leaving with more than a healthier mind and body?  Most gyms are required to clean equipment and benches throughout the day for their beloved members.  However, what goes on in between those cleanings could be affecting your health.  Dr. Bruce Hirsch, an infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. explains “You can pick up a cold or virus if an infected person at the gym wipes his mouth or nose, touches the treadmill or bench press, and then you touch the equipment and touch your mouth or eyes.”

     The solution is NOT to skip out on your workouts, but you should be extra aware of your personal hygiene.  By using good hygiene and being aware of where germs and viruses are most likely to collect, like the grips and handrails of weight and cardio machines, you can avoid all those visits to your doctor.  While there shouldn’t be widespread panic, you should take cleanliness and self protection in public places seriously.  Short of exercising in a biohazard suit, here are some tips for germ-proofing your visits to the gym.  

1.    Wash your hands often and keep your hands away from your face.  If you have to scratch or rub your face, use the back of your hand rather than the fingers or palm.  It will have touched germy places less often. Common sense and good hygiene is especially important when dealing with exercise equipment.  Your chances of getting sick are minimal if you wash your hands right after you work out as well.  

2.    Mind others around you.  Cover your cough or sneeze in your elbow.  Avoid using your hands; they are more likely to touch equipment resulting in spreading your germs.   

3.    Wipe machines – TWICE.  Wipe down equipment before AND after you use it, and don’t just swipe with nothing.  Instead, use an antibacterial wipe or spray.  Most gyms provide these to their guests complimentary.  

4.    Use your own supplies.  Bring your own equipment whenever possible, including yoga mats, gloves, and towels.  Neal Pire, spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine, states that acquiring MRSA from exercise equipment is low; however, places like yoga mats can be “a haven for dirt, sweat, and grime.”

5.    Wash all your workout gear in hot water.  This includes clothes, towels, gloves, and yes, even your gym bag.  Between sweaty socks and damp towels on the inside, to the findings of fecal bacteria on the outside of 90% of all gym bags, they are havens for bacteria inside and out.  Try finding a gym bag that resists forming bacterial odors such as the Apera gym bags that have ventilated compartments and a waterproof base.  

     Most people have a strong enough immune system to fight off any germs or bacteria present.  Exercise can also boost your immune system, so even with all the germs present, the benefits far outweigh the fear of germs at the gym.  Instead of fearing the possibilities of getting sick, be more cautious of the environment and take proper measures to keep yourself healthy and prevent yourself from becoming infected.  

Submitted by: Emily Hurlbut, Fitness Consultant, Bradley Wellness Center