- Craze for gym workout is something that engulfs men and women alike.
- Given the concept of functional fitness, people work out in gyms for different reasons. That can lead to risks of being exposed to different types of germs in gyms.
- A survey confirms various types of infections that people can suffer in the gym. However, there are ways to avoid the risks of contracting germs in gyms.
- Confirmed by doctors, there are precautionary measures to prevent the spread of germs from gym. They are easy to follow and incorporate in daily life.
- Given the communicable nature of infections, prevention is the best cure. The tips from doctors focus more on the precautions to avoid infection.
With going to gym being considered as fashionable due to many movie stars being popular due to their strong and chiseled physique that women can drool over, every Tom, Dick, and Harry wants to go to gym to channel his inner Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, or Dolph Lundgren. Craze for gym has equally bugged women the way it has bugged men due to the popularity of celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce, and Cameron Diaz, being famous for their figure.
With the concept of functional fitness being popular, every person goes to gym for different reasons. Some teenagers go to gym, just to look cool. Athletes work out in gyms to burn fat and stay fit so that they can improve their performance at sports. Women work out to maintain their figure. Old people work out to keep their limbs active and avoid joint pain.
Risks of Germs in Gym
Given the increasing pollution and different people believing in different standards of hygiene, there is possibility that the gym environment might be infected with different types of germs. For example, if someone uses his hands (instead of handkerchief), while sneezing to cover his face during flu, his infection can pass on to someone else who touches the workout equipment after the infected person leaves.
A survey covering over 1,000 gym-goers talked about the sanitary practices among respondents and the results confirm that most gym-goers did not pay attention to the possibility of germs in gym. More than half of gym-goers witnessed that bathroom users did not wash hands and continued to use gym equipment with their dirty hands. 35% of men admitted that they never wiped down weight machines after using them. 25% women admitted that they never wiped down cardio equipment. 38.4% of gym-goers failed to wipe down equipment in the afternoons. 21.2% respondents failed to do the same in the late evening.
Dr. Nirav Patel, chief medical officer at the University Medical Center New Orleans, says:
“It’s really important to go to the gym and be healthy and people should not (have to) worry about getting sick… keeping them from the gym. The health benefits are great and the risk of infection is pretty low for most people.”
Dr. Patel also talked about some germs that people commonly contracted in gyms.
Germs in Gym to Watch Out For
The germ infections that people commonly contract in the gym include staph bacteria, fungal infections, and viruses.
Staphylococcus infections and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can live on different types of gym equipment that includes free weights, machines, and mats. They can also infect people who share towels or sit/workout on dirty benches. They can also be in the air of locker rooms in case an infected person comes to the gym.
Equipment touched by an infected person leads to spread of infection when another person touches it. Many times after workout, people pick snacks and eat with dirty hands. That also leads to the spread of infection.
Jason Tetro, microbiologist and host of “Super Awesome Science Show,” agreed with Dr. Patel. However, he said that people did not wipe down equipment regularly, before and after the use which caused the spread of germs.
A group of fungi called dermatophytes can cause a skin problem called athlete’s foot. When aggravated, it can also cause ringworm. This virus can come either from infected air in the locker room or by wearing socks of wet feet. Dr. Patel said, “Athlete’s food is caused by fungi that live all over but are associated with moist, damp, wet environments.”
Defined as small growths usually appearing on the heels or other weight-bearing areas of human feet, plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They usually develop on the heels or balls of the feet.
Herpes gladiatorum, which is also known as mat herpes, is caused by Herpes Simplex Virus Type 1. The name has been derived from the era of Roman Empire. During those days, wrestlers/gladiators serving the Roman king used to get herpes because they were wrestling in close contact with each other. In the modern era, athletes who play contact sports can still contract mat herpes.
Dr. Tetro also talked about the concerns surrounding airborne respiratory viruses in gyms.
Infection from food
Many times, gyms have public water fountains or coffee pots and eating refreshments. Dr. Patel said that although food and drink usually maintained to reasonable hygiene, eating with dirty hands or drinking from a public water fountain with an infected person nearby could cause spread of different viruses. Coffee or bowls if not washed properly can cause virus spread despite food being fresh. Dr. Patel said:
“I tell many people during the cold and flu season to get the flu shot and practicing good hand hygiene. Most of the time, you get the flu not because someone sneezed in your face, but because you touched something or are around people who are constantly coughing or sneezing, so when you pick up that phone receiver or touch the door knob and touch your face without good hand hygiene, [you contract the illness].”
Precautionary Measures to Elude Infection from Gym Germs
While describing the precautionary measures to avoid infection, doctors are not discouraging anyone from going to gym. A good workout, along with right diet is as important for a healthy body as the following precautions being necessary to prevent infection from germs in gym.
A precautionary measure to avoid staph bacteria has been suggested by Dr. Patel. It is as follows:
“If you want to protect yourself, wipe down the equipment using antibacterial wipes or sprays that gyms provide or use your own towel as a barrier between yourself and the [equipment].”
Dr. Tetro who did not fully agree with Dr. Patel‘s in the context of preventive solutions, suggested that one should take other preventive measures. He added:
“When you’re finished, take a shower with soap shortly after you have exercised to remove any germs that may have come onto your skin when you were working out. Also, make sure your clothes are washed and dried regularly.”
One can avoid staph bacteria by wiping the equipment before use and if the user has any type of bacteria in his body or sweat, he/she can prevent its spread by wiping the equipment after the use. Washing hands after using any machine or equipment can also prevent the further spread of germs.
The precautionary measures to avoid fungal infections have been suggested by Dr. Patel. Gym regulars should change their shoes frequently so that the shoes have a chance to air out. Wearing moisture-wicking materials can help the sweat to evaporate. Hence, this prevents a moist wet environment. Walking across the gym floor with shoes on instead of barefoot can help prevent skin contact with the fungi.
Another effective way to avoid fungal infection causing athlete‘s foot is daily change of socks. Socks are directly in contact with the skin and thus, they need to be clean, fresh, and moisture-free. After shower, one should properly dry his/her feet with towel or talcum powder before putting on socks and shoes.
To avoid HPV, there are remedies suggested by Dr. Patel. As HPV lives in the wet environment, one should avoid walking barefoot on moist and wet environments. One should take shower and rinse off using clean water.
To stay safe from mat herpes virus, Dr. Patel has suggested the remedy of avoiding shared equipment and towels. It is better to carry clean stuff from home and solely using it in the gym. In that case, if the user has some type of infection from any source by coincidence, it remains limited to him/her and does not spread to other people in the gym.
Some basic preventive measures to curb the infection from planter warts also come handy. One should avoid physical contact with warts. That includes his/her own warts. If there is a situation where one has touched a wart, he/she should properly wash hands with a good soap and clean water and avoid touching anything before washing hands. Like athlete‘s foot, keeping feet clean and dry is necessary in this situation also. If one has to go out daily, the change of socks is necessary on daily basis. Shoes should also be changed once in every three days if change in every two days is not possible. One should walk barefoot around swimming pools or locker room. Scratching warts or picking at them can aggravate the infection make putting foot on the ground, more painful. So one should avoid doing that. One should never use the same emery board, nail clipper, or pumice stone on his/her warts as he/she uses on his/her healthy skin and nails.
Suggesting preventive measures to stay safe from airborne respiratory viruses, Dr. Tetro said:
“While people should not go to the gym when sick, it’s hard to stop them. If you happen to see someone who is coughing, sneezing, or showing any general signs of shedding, you may want to avoid that area until at least a minute after the person has left. You also want to wipe down the equipment to ensure you don’t pick up viruses from the surfaces and send them into your respiratory tract by touching your face.”
Agreeing Dr. Tetro, Dr. Patel said that at any public gathering (not just gym), if someone coughed or sneezed without performing good cough etiquette, then it would be necessary for others to ask that person to cover their cough. One can also give infected people, a Kleenex or hand sanitizer. Another remedy in such situation can be going to the other side of room or using a different piece of equipment.
Regarding, snacks and coffee, it is advisable to use a disposable cup. Or the user can bring his/her own reusable cup from home to avoid infection. Such cups and bowls should never be shared with anyone.
The way you are very particular about the right workout to make your body strong, being particular about hygiene and precautions against infections will help you retain the health that workout has built for you. Lack of precautions which results in infection can make you lose anything that you attained by working out.