The dirty little secret about gyms is that while we (well not me...) are there to improve our health, gyms can be dirty and covered with bacteria like MRSA, viruses like the cold, flu and/or herpes viruses, and fungi causing athletes foot. Let's be serious, any time there are groups of people milling about sweating on and then sharing equipment, there is an opportunity for germs to thrive and hop from person to person. In fact, one study found that 75% of weight equipment was contaminated with cold-causing rhinoviruses and even wiping the surface twice did not completely nix the germs. However, a stuffy nose and sniffles is the least of your worries, considering antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA are being found with alarming frequency in gyms and have been the cause of numerous outbreaks and infections within the community, schools and professional sports teams. In fact, Carl Nicks (Guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) who was a first-team All-Pro for New Orleans in 2011 might be done with football because of a MRSA infection he suffered last year (a toe injury....). He was one of several unlucky players to pick up MRSA at the Buccaneers facility during training camp in 2013.
To lessen your chance of exposure you can do as I do and avoid the gym, or follow the following simple steps:
- Limit direct skin contact with surfaces by putting a towel down when using an exercise mat or bench and that goes for the bench in the locker room too!
- Bring your own Yoga mat as most communal ones are only sporadically (if ever) cleaned and disinfected.
- Swap your clothes from tank tops and shorts to T-shirts and leggings - the less contact your skin has with shared surfaces, the less chance of picking something up!
- Shower immediately after you work out and keep your dirty gear separated from other items in your gym bag.
- Let your shower flip-flops dry out before repacking.
- If you do not wear shower flip-flops, get some, and then refer to point 5.
- Bring your own towel (at least one outbreak of MRSA has been associated with improperly laundered towels).
- Use a disinfectant spray or disinfectant wipe to clean and disinfectant the equipment before you use it. Certainly gym etiquette mandates cleaning AFTER you have finished using the equipment, but do you really trust that the person before you did?
- Clean your hands after you have finished working out and DEFINITELY before you eat anything!