For those of us who lives, breathes, and talks about staying fit by pumping irons, doing intense cardio, and using body machines, health is our utmost priority. Although to some of us, the gym is considered to be our Health Temple, we may be getting more than what we bargain for. One study reveals that 63 percent of the surfaces we touch on exercise equipment are covered in rhinoviruses (the cause of the common cold). Therefore, this means that the chances of catching it are high.
It’s easy to see how coughs, sneezes, and sweat-drenched, unwashed hands might quickly spread the viruses that cause colds from one treadmill to the next. But a cold, or even the Flu, might be the least of the gym germs you need to worry about.
Gym Germs: Is it a real thing?
In a study where DNA was extracted from contact-surface swab samples of fitness equipments, a total of 25 bacterial types were found. With 15 predominant bacterial types, several gym germs which are considered as the more serious threats include MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Salmonella spp. (the one that causes digestive tract infections, including Typhoid Fever), Pseudomonas spp. (causing Pneumonia, UTI, etc), and other bacterias that causes severe skin infections. MRSA itself is considered a super bacteria, resistant to most commonly used antibiotics. This makes it very difficult to treat – and can live and thrive on exercise machines, mats, and locker-room benches.
One key symptom of MRSA skin infection is typically obvious. “Usually [MRSA] presents itself as a boil. They can be very painful because it’s a giant pimple and you have to get it lanced,” says Michael Cohen, M.D., an assistant clinical professor at UCLA Health Division of Infectious Disease. “And occasionally it can get in your bloodstream and become systemic. This makes you really, really sick—so you don’t want to have staph infections.”
Besides MRSA and the other bacterial infections mentioned above, the gym / fitness centre are also breeding grounds for other virus, fungus and parasites. These causes diseases such as Athlete’s foot, Jock Itch, Warts caused by HPV, Molluscum Contagiosum, Impetigo, Chicken Pox, Measles, Herpes Simplex, Ring worms, etc. Mouthful names, we know.
Gym Germs: How Filthy Are Those Equipments?
Researchers at FitRated gathered bacteria samples from 27 different pieces of equipment at three different gyms to get an idea of how many germs you may encounter when you touch a treadmill, exercise bike, or free weight. They found that each piece of equipment is teeming with more than one million germs per square inch.
Check out the graphics below (click to magnify) to see what’s lurking at the gym.
Rules To Protect Us From The Gym Germs
Those diseases are very common, although you may not have heard of it. Or perhaps you just didn’t realize that you’ve gotten it from the gym. Yikes! All these gym germs may sound so awful that you may no longer visit a fitness centre. It actually doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s the good news: if you follow some simple rules, you can cut down on your chances of getting sick, and focus on building your beach body.
1. Wipe Equipments Before and After Use
If you see alcohol-based antibacterial wipes at the gym, use them to wipe down surfaces before you touch them (to protect yourself), and also after (to protect others). Dr. Cohen says, “The main problem is what people touch. We spread most things with our hands and some bacteria can live on inanimate areas for up to hours.“
Don’t see any wipes around? Whatever you do, don’t use your towel to wipe it off. Towels can quickly spread bacteria since we also use them to wipe our own sweat and they come into contact with our skin. If your gym doesn’t offer antibacterial wipes, you can always carry a pack of your own Antibacterial Wipes in your gym bag to wipe your skin after a workout.
2. Bring Your Own Exercise Mat or Use Clean Towel As Barrier
If you do not own your own exercise mat, there is one way a towel can protect against those gym germs. A towel helps when it’s used as clean barrier between your skin and a shared surface. A great time to use one is over a yoga mat, so your skin never has direct contact. Be sure to toss the towel in the “used” bin afterward, and get a fresh one for the rest of your workout.
It’s really all common sense. It’s something that we should all have learned in sixth grade health class. You need to keep yourself and your equipments clean. You never know who last used the equipment in a gym. It can be a great breeding ground for these germs, some of which are pretty nasty.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
We spread most germs with our hands. With this logic, it means what we pick up at the gym can quickly spread to our belongings. An example of these include our phones, our bags, even to our cars the minute we touch them. Always wash your hands thoroughly with water and antibacterial soap before you leave the gym. Even better, before you touch anything in your locker or gym bag. This is a good way to stop the transfer of MRSA and any other type of bacteria from spreading—including the dreaded flu.
Most germs are spread from your mouth to your hands and onto someone else’s. Every time we shake hands we’re transferring around 10,000 germs, but they’re all over us all the time.
4. Bandage Cuts & Safeguard Your Skin
Keep cuts and scrapes clean using antiseptics and cover with a bandage until healed. This is also common courtesy for other people using the same equipment as you at the gym. Hepatitis B and HPV may spread very fast in cases of wound contact. Keep a barrier such as an item of clothing or a towel – not the one you use for wiping your own sweat – between your skin and equipment that others use, such as weight-training machines and sauna benches. Always wear flip-flops or shower shoes in wet areas.
If you feel uncomfortable carrying cloths for barrier, an easier way would be to wear gloves. Wearing your own clean gym gloves before using machines or lifting free weights allows you to avoid direct contact from the equipments.
5. Get Vaccinated
Vaccinating yourselves against the common, yet preventable diseases that are caused by the abundantly found gym germs increases your protection. As mentioned above, some of the gym germs that you can get immunized against include Typhoid Fever, Influenza, Pneumonia, Hepatitis B, and HPV.
Getting vaccinated against these common diseases provides additional protection for you and also prevents you from spreading these gym germs to other fellow gym-goers. As we’ve mentioned time and time again, health is not just your personal matter, but more of a community effort.
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