While going to the gym is great for your health, few of us think about the millions of bacteria lingering on the weights, machines and yoga mats.
Fitness centers are a breeding ground for potentially deadly bacteria, which thrive in moist environments, with so many people dripping in sweat in close quarters.
These bacteria can cause warts, rashes and infections that can travel as deep as your bones.
Taking simple precautionary measures, such as wearing shoes in the shower and wiping down exercise equipment, can go a long way in protecting your body from harmful viruses and infections, such as MRSA and ringworm.
Here, an expert reveals some of the dangers of bacteria found in gyms that you should know about, and provides tips on how best to avoid them.
KEEP YOUR HANDS TO YOURSELF
New York dermatologist Dr Arash Akhavan said that staph bacteria, which can lead to a MRSA infection, are among the biggest threats to communal gym users.
‘In terms of the most serious danger, that would be staph,’ he said. Dr Akhavan added: ‘That’s very easy to contract, especially through sweaty skin.’
Staph bacteria live in about one-third of the population, but they are usually harmless.
Cut out as much physical contact as possible at the gym to avoid getting a MRSA infection, which results in a grouping of pimples filled with pus on your skin
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR SKIN WHILE WORKING OUT
Sweating excessively during a workout can be harsh on your skin.
And leaving sweaty clothes on after your workout is also not good for your skin, as it can lead to acne.
The following are hygiene tips for how to keep your skin clear if you exercise frequently:
- When you sweat for an extended period of time, a layer of dead skin can build up under your workout clothes. Washing off with a mild gel-based cleanser and applying a light moisturizer before your workout can lessen the harmful affects of this.
- If you workout while wearing makeup, your pores are likely to clog, so make sure to remove all of it before you start to sweat.
- When you sweat, the oil that your body produces can foster bacteria and worsen acne. After your workout you should take your exercise clothes off immediately and shower as soon as possible.
However, if one person’s staph bacteria enter another person’s body via a cut or scrape on their skin, a resulting infection can prove deadly.
People usually notice these infections when they see swollen bumps resembling pimples on their skin.
It may seem like a minor rash at first, but these infected areas can quickly turn into hazards that require surgical draining.
And the bacteria that cause these infections can eventually make their way to a person’s bones or bloodstream, resulting in sometimes-fatal infections.
To decrease your chances of developing a MRSA infection, make sure all your cuts and scrapes are thoroughly covered and avoid as much physical contact with others as possible while working out.
And taking these measures can also help you avoid an E. coli infection, which can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, cramping and nausea.
ALWAYS BRING YOUR OWN YOGA MAT
‘The biggest thing we see infections from is yoga mats,’ Dr Akhavan said.
He explained that the mats are classified as ‘fomites’, which are objects known to carry infections.
‘Bring your own or use a towel’ to separate your body from a gym yoga mat, he recommended.
Using gym-owned yoga mats can lead to fungal infections, an example of which is tinea, also known as ringworm.
Using yoga mats that belong to the gym can heighten your risk of getting a fungal infection, such as the ringworm infection pictured here
Tinea is caused by yeast that can be found on your skin. An infection occurs when this yeast grows out of control and the result is a rash.
Ringworm rashes include patches that can be pink, white, brown or red. They can be lighter or darker than the skin surrounding them. These spots are most common on one’s neck, chest, back and arms.
Another way to avoid a fungal infection is to make sure you take off your sweaty exercise gear immediately after your workout. ‘Cool off and dry off as quickly as possible,’ Dr Akhavan suggested.
WEAR SHOES IN THE SHOWER AND LOCKER ROOM
Another danger is that of developing warts. One can do this by touching surfaces in gym showers and locker rooms.
This does not mean that you should avoid the shower completely, though. ‘It’s safe to shower as long as the gym is relatively hygienic,’ Dr Akhavan said. But he explained that wearing shoes in these environments is critical.
And people should also try to touch as few surfaces in these areas as possible with their bare skin.
Wear shoes when you shower and avoid touching shower and locker room walls and surfaces, as this can lead to warts on your feet and hands
‘You can bring them home,’ he said, referring to the fact that, if you shower in a gym without shoes and then you go home and walk around barefoot, you can expose others in your home to warts.
Warts that occur on the bottom of one’s foot are called plantar warts, while those on the hands are called palmer warts. They are growths caused by infections on the top layer of one’s skin.
Plantar and palmer warts are caused by a strain of human papillomavirus, the most common STD.
DON’T USE HOT TUBS AND SAUNAS IN PUBLIC GYMS
It is best to avoid being in watery spaces, including hot tubs and saunas, at the gym, Dr Akhavan said.
‘They are a big source of folliculitis that could [lead to] a pretty dramatic rash,’ Dr Akhavan said. The rash that he is referring to occurs when one’s hair follicles become inflamed.
He added that he once saw a folliculitis rash spread all over a patient’s body and that the patient then had to be hospitalized and treated with antibiotics.
It can be easy to contract folliculitis in public hot tubs and saunas. Folliculitis is a skin infection, pictured here, which can eventually lead to hospitalization
Folliculitis is most common on one’s beard, back, arms, buttocks and legs. A folliculitis rash looks similar to a grouping of red pimples, all of which have hair in the center.
They frequently itch or burn, and the pimples may have pus inside of them.
DISINFECT ALL WORK OUT EQUIPMENT BEFORE TOUCHING IT
Lastly, rhinoviruses, which are responsible for most common colds, can be found on nearly half of all machines that require hand contact that have not been cleaned thoroughly enough.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that exercise equipment in communal gyms is teeming with viral bacteria.
A study has found that about half of the exercise equipment people touch in gyms are home to viral bacteria
For this reason, you should wipe down treadmills, ellipticals, weights and all other hand-contact workout machines before handling them to decrease your chances of getting sick post-workout.
In many gyms, there are stations with disinfecting wipes for use near cardio machines, and a thorough sweep of the equipment you use can save you from future coughing and sneezing fits.