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.
This information is totally true! I worked in a gym for 5 years and the things I saw totally disgusted me. I would watch people blow their nose and then stuff the tissue in the cup holder on the treadmills! Or worse yet, blow their nose in their towel and then use the same towel to wipe the equipment when they finished. It’s really bad at the gym! Good advice here!
It’s unbelievable how many people use the machines at the gym without wiping them down afterwards. It’s so gross. I try to exercise outdoors whenever I can but if I go to the gym I always wash my hands well before leaving.
I once wrote an article about reducing your risk of infection — particularly when taking an immunosuppressant medication, but it works for everyone. Some of the dirtiest areas are places that don’t often get washed and are touched by a lot of people — and bats, gas handles, banisters. And a gym would definitely qualify. These are great tips!
I work for a company that produces Clinical Practice Guidelines and we have a title specific to infections for people on immunosuppressant medications.
Yes, to everything on this list. Practicing these tips for staying healthy at the gym, is a must do. I’m a gym goer and before signing up for any new gym, I always do a trial run and check out the bathrooms – especially for mildew and mold.
Public places like gyms must be an incredible breeding ground for bacteria. And it must be incredibly difficult for staff to try to maintain them, so it is really up to us ourselves to ensure we do what we can to maintain our health. These are great tips. I always keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in the car so I can use it after being at the supermarket. The handles on the trolleys are probably the worse culprits for harbouring germs.
These are some great tips for staying healthy. I believe going to the gym and getting some exercise will make you live a happier longer life. Awesome post.
I’m with you on all these things! It’s a public place and everyone should do their part to keep it germ-free! I used to go to the gym regularly when I was living in Toronto. It was a small gym and everyone was very good about wiping down the machines (thank goodness!) As a matter of fact, the gym also provided a spray bottle with a solution to use on the machines! I am the hand sanitizer queen, I always have a bottle on me and everyone always comes to me to ask me for it! Guess I’m pretty good at staying healthy at the gym, and any public place for that matter!
I’m like you. I have hand sanitizer all the time
I have been going to the gym most of my life and I can totally relate to all the points you make. People are slobs. The worst is people shaving in a sauna. They do not realize those small hairs fall off and can infect people. I was getting warts on my feet all the time and the doctor said wear slippers when you go into the shower. That stopped it. A lot of it is common sense. Nothing worse than someone grunting when they are doing weights and then leave all their sweat on the machines. Any reason you say to bring your own towels. I have always used towel service and i know they use all kinds of stuff to make sure the towels are super clean. Yes totally agree with washing your hands. People do not realize if you are not putting bandages on your open wounds you can infect a lot of people. All amazing points. Thanks for a wonderful write-up.
Thanks for the comment Jerry.
I like the idea of workout gloves – I’d rather not touch a surface anywhere if I don’t need to. If it were up to me I’d wear gloves everywhere – I’m a bit of a germophobe! The shower shoes are really important too – for swimmers as well.
Great tips! Esp with bandages, I am generally not a fan so I always have to remind myself to cover with bandages. Feet issues are real, never walking barefeet in the gym or pool
Although I do not visit the gym these days and mostly do free hand workouts and use my trusted treadmill, these thoughts of staying safe while in the Gym, which I frequented till a few years back, had never occurred to me. Good to learn and tell those I know so that they are careful.
Great advice! I am shocked by the number of people who don’t take the time to wipe down a machine prior to use… I mean, I know that common courtesy is to wipe it down after use for the next person, but do you really trust that it is always being done? I don’t! I’d rather take the extra few seconds to make sure that I’m using something clean!
These are great advice. I was shocked to see the lack of respect for other people health at the gym. There was no cleaning wipes, the toilets were dirty and stink of body order. I just decided to end my membership with the gym.
Gyms are just as bad as schools, if not worse, for germs flying around. People are just gross in general. I am always wiping down machines before and after using them, as well as washing my hands right before I leave. Hand washing is always the very last thing I do when I leave, and I usually lather up with soap and rinse twice. That way I know I’m not taking anything with me when I leave. I see way too many people walking around touching their face when working out and that is just a recipe for germs and sickness. I was just talking to my husband about adding shower shoes to my gym bag too, before I start showering at the gym.
These are all awesome tips that I think a lot more people should work on doing at the gym to keep themselves and those around them healthier. No one wants to use a nasty gym mat and no one wants athletes foot! Thanks for all of these tips.