When most people talk about staying healthy at the gym, the discussion revolves around the actual workout itself and the benefits gained from a good workout. What people seldom think about in the gym or fitness center are the germs and health hazards that lurk around every corner, on every machine, and in every locker room. You can be getting more than a good pump when you go to the gym, including bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections. Equipment public areas and locker rooms are breeding grounds for germs.
I am not a “germaphobe” and don’t walk around in a bubble all day. I believe that you should be exposed to a certain amount of bacteria to help your body build up immunities. The intent of this article is not to persuade you from going to the gym but rather to make sure you are staying healthy at the gym as best you can and avoid unnecessary illness.
Many years ago, I worked in the health club industry, managing facilities throughout NYC and Brooklyn. I can tell you from first-hand experience that people are slobs, and it takes consistent work to keep a facility running and looking in top shape. Each hour it seems there is a new slew of people that come and go, sweating all over the equipment, leaving garbage behind, and doing god knows what in the locker rooms. It’s your fellow gym members and maybe you that lead to these germs.
The National Athletic Trainers Association notes that skin infections are some of the most common ailments contracted in gyms and fitness centers. The sharing of mats, towels, and equipment can lead to conditions such as MRSA, athletes foot, ringworm, staph, and more.
Staying healthy at the gym begins with following these 5 simple tips.
Bring your own equipment
I’m not sure there are still gyms that provide towels to members for their workouts outside of hotel fitness centers, but I recommend to bring your own. You don’t need a big giant bath towel that’s straight out of your bathroom (I have seen some outrageous floral prints) but something small like a face towel. You’re only using this towel to wipe the sweat from your face during the workout.
If you prefer Yoga for a workout than bring your mat. I don’t want to be disparaging to the industry, but don’t count on the mats you are pulling off the pile in the aerobics room to be wiped down regularly because most likely they aren’t. Buy a mat like this one in whatever color you’d like and take it with you each time. Don’t forget to wipe your mat down as well when you get home.
I prefer to wear workout gloves for two reasons. One reason is that my hands sweat when I lift, and I like to make sure I have a good hold of the weights. The second reason is that if the person before me had a cold and wiped their nose and then grabbed the dumbbells, then their germs are now on my hands. Lifting gloves eliminate those germs from touching my skin. Wash the gloves regularly as well. I have used this brand for years, and they have stood the test of time. They are nothing fancy and not expensive, and work just fine.
Wipe down the machine
Almost every health club I have seen in recent years offers paper towels and some sort of cleaner or wipes to use for the equipment. Before I ride the spin or exercise bike each morning, I make sure to wipe down the handles, the screen, and the seat. Anything that my hands come in contact with. The same should be done for benches and any group stretching mats. Wipe down your area to not only be courteous to the next member but also to ensure you are staying healthy at the gym.
I have witnessed people sweat buckets beneath their exercise bike and get us and leave afterward. You don’t know who was there before you or what their story is, so be careful and wipe the equipment down first.
Cover your feet in locker rooms
An inexpensive pair of shower shoes (flip flops or shower slides ) is all you need to ensure that your feet don’t come in contact with the locker room floor. Walking barefoot is a surefire way to contract athlete’s foot, “a fungal infection that affects the upper layer of the skin of the foot.” Keep the shower shoes in your workout bag and wear them at all times in the locker room and the shower.
Put bandages on cuts and scrapes
If you have any scrape or skin abrasion, make sure to cover it with a fresh, clean bandage. Staph bacteria can quickly spread through an open cut or wound, providing bacteria easy access to your bloodstream. When staying healthy at the gym, cover wounds to prevent entry points for Staph. You don’t get any infections, and you don’t want to give any, either.
Wash your hands before leaving
Before you step out of the gym, wash your hands with hot water and soap, or utilize hand sanitizer. My gym has hand sanitizers located throughout the facility for just this purpose. It is the last thing I do before I walk out the door. If your gym doesn’t provide hand sanitizer, then purchase a bottle for your gym bag and make sure to use it. Make sure when you wash your hands to wash for at least 30 seconds and scrub aggressively. The more effort you put into washing, the more effective it will be.
The best way to stay healthy is to incorporate a fitness routine into your daily life, along with diet and nutrition. Don’t avoid the gym for fear of contracting a flesh-eating virus or skin infection but instead focus on staying healthy at the gym by following these tips. I’ll add that along with the tips above, make sure you clean your workout clothes regularly as well as your gym bag. Many people leave that same gym bag on the floor of the facility and never wash it.
Do you have any tips you can share for staying healthy at the gym? Comment below and let me know.