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KRON 4 | Germs You Get from Gyms

Your doctor told you to get some exercise, so you go to the gym, but you end up with more than you bargained for. Fitness facilities can be icky germ factories. I’m armed with tips on how to get fit without getting sick.
KRON 4_Gym Germs6

Breeding Grounds for a Wide Variety of Germs 

Fitness studios or gyms may be places to get healthy, but they’re also breeding grounds for a host of germs — particularly Staphylococcus bacteria or “staph”. 

A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found 25 different categories of bacteria lurking in fitness centers.

Why Germs Thrive

Cold and flu season will be creeping up on us again soon, so beware of those coughers and sneezers who can quickly spread viruses from one treadmill to the next. But… the majority of germs that people pick up at their favorite fitness studio are those that affect the skin. 

Bacteria, fungi, and viruses that cause skin infections thrive in SWEAT. Warm, moist areas are particularly problematic. Sweat gets left behind on:

    • Exercise equipment (from rowers to reformers, weights, and boxing gloves to basketballs), mats, and machines
    • Handrails, towels
    • Saunas, showers, swimming pool decks
    • Locker room benches, toilet/door handles
If you’re sweaty, it’s likely your hands AND gloves are sweaty too.

The Most Common Germs 

The following skin problems are the most common ones you can pick up at a fitness facility:

1. Athlete’s Foot and Jock Itch

  • Blame these conditions on fungus.
  • Fungi (pronounced “fun-guy”) reproduce through tiny spores in the air. That means, you can inhale the spores or they can land on you! As a result, fungal infections often begin in your lungs or on your skin. That means they’re easy to get and PASS AROUND.
  • Fungi, the plural for fungus, live and reproduce in the air, in soil and water, on plants… and on YOU. Those embarrassing health conditions mentioned above are caused by an excessive amount of fungus growing on the surface of your skin. Think of that fuzzy green mold that grows on decaying old fruit hiding in the back of your frig or the mildew that grows on shower walls. Same idea.
  • Only half of them are harmful, but they can be annoying, ITCHY and difficult to kill. If you have a circulation problem, weakened immune system, diabetes, or take antibiotics, you may be more likely to get a fungal infection. (Antibiotics may disrupt the balance of natural microflora in your system which causes fungi to overpopulate.) It’s important to get treatment at the first sign of a problem.

2. Hot-Tub Rash

  • When levels of disinfectants (like chlorine) are too low in swimming pools and hot tubs, you can get an itchy red rash from the bacteria that you pick up.

3. Plantar Warts

  • This virus infects feet, so don’t go barefoot in the locker room, gym showers, or exercise studios.

4. Impetigo (im-pe-TEE-go)

  • This HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS infection is caused by a staph or strep bacteria.
  • It gets into your body through broken skin (a cut, scrape or insect bite).
  • Transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, contaminated towels, and sports equipment.
Sports equipment is a carrier for germs. Disinfect the ball with wipes and wash your hands.

5. Staph Infections and MRSA   

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aurea (MRSA) is a difficult staph infection to treat because it is resistant to many antibiotics. 
  • MRSA can thrive for days in locker rooms and on gym equipment, mats, and benches.
  • Common forms of transmission are sports where there is skin-to-skin contact, such as football, wrestling, and basketball.square-1481566182-g-loves-lifting-gloves

NOTE: Weight training gloves not only protect your hands against abrasions and calluses but from germs as well.

Protect Your Skin

  • Keep open wounds and scrapes clean and completely covered with a bandage. 
  • Use a towel as a barrier between your skin and anything that is shared weight machines, bicycle seats, exercise mats, treatment tables, and sauna benches.
  • Keep your feet covered and wear flip-flops in wet areas, such as the shower, hot tub, and pool areas.

Bring Your Own…

  • Exercise mats rarely get cleaned after use or between classes. It’s best to use your own for yoga, floor exercises and stretches. 
  • Bicycle seats can provide comfort AND protection. (Spinning classes can get people pretty sweaty in some pretty personal areas).

Practice Your Own Good Hygiene

  • Wash your hands before/after playing sports or using shared equipment.
  • Use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Disinfect equipment BEFORE and AFTER you use it. Don’t trust that the person before you wiped it down.
  • Shower after working out or using the hot tub, sauna, or swimming pool.
  • Don’t share personal items like razors and towels.

Get Out of Gross Gear

Skin bacteria and fungi can build up each time you wear a piece of clothing without washing it. Be aware that fungi grow in sweaty gear. Here are a few anti-fungal fitness tips:

  • Change out of your gym clothes, socks, shoes, and gloves right after your workout.
  • Don’t toss your wet gym clothes in a hamper. Hang them up to air dry.
  • Air out your gym shoes in the sun to dry. Don’t toss them in a dark closet or gym bag where air cannot circulate.
  • Switch your shoes. This will give them a chance to fully dry.
  • Sanitize and air dry your weight training/boxing gloves after each use. Don’t forget and keep them nestled in your gym bag!
  • Wash your gym clothes as soon as possible. Be sure to dry them immediately after washing to prevent mold growth.
  • Wear CLEAN gym clothes and completely DRY athletic shoes before each workout.
  • Try wearing some breathable, anti-fungal socks for your long walks or workouts. They can help wick away moisture from your feet/toes.
  • Don’t walk barefoot in damp communal areas, such as swimming pools, gyms and shower rooms. If you must sit down, park your backside on a clean dry towel.

Karen’s Fit Tip:  Sweaty gear is the perfect home for fungi and other germs to thrive and grow. Don’t marinate in a wet bathing suit and damp underwear or you’ll end up with an itchy assault that you’ll regret. Avoid cotton for wearing under there. 

  • For the guys: Check out some chafe-proof microfiber athletic underwear. 
  • For the gals: Shop around for comfy sports intimates that’ll wick away moisture and “stay in place”.

Karen Owoc

Karen Owoc is a certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist specializing in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and lifestyle medicine. Her science-based approach to longevity, nutrition, and muscle health has made her the go-to source for health seekers and medical professionals alike. Karen's best-selling book on functional longevity, "Athletes in Aprons: The Nutrition Playbook to Break 100", and her transformative perspective have mended many minds, hearts, and spirits.

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