Preventing Common Skin Infections At The Gym

The gym is supposed to be a healthy place where you can lose weight, gain lean muscle and improve your health and fitness. Unfortunately, the gym is also the ideal breeding ground for germs. It's warm, wet and filled with sweaty bodies, the perfect environment to grow and spread microscopic pathogens such as bacteria and fungi. Gym equipment provides ideal surfaces for these bugs to thrive. Dumbbells, barbells, exercise mats and gym towels can host these infectious germs until properly disinfected or laundered.

wash hands to prevent germs

Gym Germs

There are four major families of germs which are common in health clubs, fitness centers and gyms:

    • Bacteria - Bacteria are single-celled organisms including staphylococcus aureus and streptococci. Bacteria are notorious for causing skin infections which can easily be transmitted to another person and can cause even more serious respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia.

    • Fungi - Fungi are also single-celled organisms, slightly more complex than bacteria. This microorganism (fungus) thrives in areas of moisture and warmth, like the gym floor, locker room or ventilation system. The most well known fungal infection is athlete's foot, followed by the second, “jock itch.”

    • Protozoa - Protozoa are another single-celled organism that originate in soil but if left unchecked can cause nausea, vomiting and intestinal infections. One of the most dangerous protozoa, Giardia (Giardia intestinalis, Giardia lamblia) can be found growing in improperly sanitized or treated hot tubs, whirlpools and swimming pools.

dirty towels gym germs

Gym infections can range from simple athlete’s foot to jock itch and ringworm that you can get from shared soap, a damp towel, or from standing barefoot on a dirty gym mat or shower floor. The best way to protect yourself from many infections found in the gym is to wash your hands. Always wash and dry your hands before you touch your face after a workout. It's also a good idea to wipe down the equipment in the gym before and after you use it, helping you to avoid direct contact with the germs left by others. Remember, avoid touching your face, nose and mouth during your gym visits.

In addition to handwashing, take these steps to avoid gym infections:

  1. Cover any wounds and cracks. Normally, skin is not easily invaded or infected. However, when your have an open wound or even a small crack in your skin coming in contact with “dirty” equipment infested with germs and bacteria, they can easily find a path to enter your body. Use bandages when appropriate, wear gloves, and avoid shaving before exercising to avoid fresh cuts and bruises.

  2. Wear appropriate footwear. Whether you’re in the workout area or the locker room, harmful bacteria are everywhere in the gym. Next to handwashing, the best self protection is wearing proper footwear. Shoes and shower shoes prevent your feet from contacting infectious germs and athlete's foot while also preventing slipping on the wet floors of the locker rooms or the gym.

  3. Use disinfectant wipes. Most gyms provide disinfectant wipes, use them to clean the handles of the treadmills, cycling machines, and any other gym equipment before and after you use it. You can use paper towels and disinfectant spray if disposable wipes with sanitizer are not provided. Disposable wipes are much more effective than the “old school” cotton towels often provided.

  4. Shower and wear clean clothes. Dampness breads bacteria, wear clean clothes, use dry towels and when finished do not leave your wet sweaty clothes and towels in your gym bag to grow bacteria. After your workout, take a shower and put on your clean and dry set of clothes.

  5. Don't share. Being safe is smart, not selfish. Don’t share or borrow any accessories or toiletries. Avoid using the common soap bars provided by the fitness center use liquid soap or your own personal soap or shampoo instead. Sharing personal items can spread germs. Limit person-to-person contact and never share towels!

  6. Bring your own workout mat. There is a pretty good chance that the exercise or yoga mat you use at the gym is rarely (if ever) cleaned or disinfected. It’s stored either stacked or rolled with your sweat and everybody else's sweat until the next time it's used. Makes good sense to bring your own and take it home and clean it!

  7. Bring your own water bottle. There are many gyms that still have wall mounted drinking (water) fountains. In a 2015 study conducted by The National Sanitation Foundation, researchers found more bacteria (E-coli, legionella, and coliform) in public drinking fountains than public restrooms! Bring your own clean refillable water bottle.

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