We all believe the gym is a place to get healthier. But can your gym be harboring some hidden issues that can affect your health. Even the cleanest gym can still provide an ideal environment for a lot of skin diseases. Gyms provide heat and humidity along with secretions from hundreds of perspiring bodies, which provide the perfect breeding grounds for the growth of fungi, bacteria and viruses. Fungi, bacteria and viruses can survive on the floor mats, towels, hand weights, treadmills, weight machines and other equipment. Bacteria and viruses may survive for hours on metal and other gym surfaces. Fungi can survive for years. Because of the friction from the use of the equipment in the gym fungi, bacteria and viruses easily penetrate the skin.
Most skin infection similar to athlete’s foot and jock itch are annoying but easily treated. And they don’t pose any serious life treating issues. If the infection is Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA) it could be a life-treating event. Staphylococcus aureus is now being found in a lot of exercise settings. The NFL reported that 42% of their players tested positive for MRSA. Most skin infections acquire in the gym can be prevented. More than 50% of healthy persons have Staphylococcus aureus living in or on their nasal passages, throats, hair and skin.
Most people keep their exercise clothes in a gym bag. They change into them, work out and then throw them back into the gym bag. The problem is most people don’t wash their clothes before wearing them again. Nor do they clean their gym bags. Unwashed gym clothing wore repeatedly increases your risk for an organism will colonize and eventually penetrate your skin. A good solution is to wash your clothing as soon as you get home. A normal wash cycle and detergent will eliminate almost all of the microbes that could hitch a ride on your clothes. Don’t forget the gym bag. Remember the bag held your dirty gym clothes and you’ll want to but your clean clothes in it for your next workout. If your bag is not washable you can wipe it down with a solution of one part bleach and 10 parts water. Never use your briefcase or your pocketbook to transport your gym clothes. If you do you’ll have to clean your briefcase or your pocketbook.
After every work out you should take a shower. The longer fungi, bacteria and viruses stay on your skin the greater your risk for an infection. When taking a shower at the gym you should wear shower shoes in the shower and the locker room. Make sure your soap is labeled antimicrobial and not just antibacterial. Antimicrobial soaps kill a broader spectrum of pathogens. Antibacterial soaps only kill bacteria.
Most people use a towel during their workout. A workout towel will not protect you from germs in the gym. Gym towels only remove sweat and moisture. Your towel may even help transfer germs to other surfaces. You should use alcohol wipes to wipe down equipment. Make sure the equipment is dry before you use it. The chemical in the wipe could hurt your skin. If you use an exercise mat for class you should bring your own mat. You should also wipe it down after each use.
Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), tinea crurts (jock itch) and tinea capitis (ringworm) are among the most common gym acquired skin infections. These infections thrive in areas of your body that accumulate moisture. The most common areas are your feet and groin. You should dry your feet and groin thoroughly after you take a shower. Never put your clothes on until your whole body is completely dry.
Don’t shave at the gym. When you shave you shave a protective skin layer off. One study estimates you are six times more likely to develop MRSA if you shave at the gym. Shaving creates nicks in the skin that makes it easy to acquire fungi, bacteria and viruses. The solution is simple here. Shave at home.
Swimming at the gym can be dangerous, too. The average swimmer contributes at least 0.14 grams of fecal material to the water within the first 15 minutes of entering the pool. Showering with soap before swimming helps stop the spread of germs by removing fecal material from the body.
I always tell everyone to drink water before, during and after a workout. If you use store bought water don’t reuse the bottle after you finish your workout. If you use a reusable plastic bottle don’t use it forever. Plastic is hard to sanitize. Use a bottle that doesn’t require hand contact with the mouth of the bottle. Insulated stainless steel water bottles keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot and can be cleaned thoroughly.
You should also make sure your gym has good air circulation. We can’t wash the air in a gym but the exchange of air should be good.
You should get medical care if you suspect that you have an acquired an infection and you have experienced any of the following:
• Difficulty breathing
• A cough lasting longer than a week
• Periods of rapid heartbeat
• A rash, especially if it’s accompanied by a fever
• Blurred vision or other difficulty seeing
• Persistent vomiting
• An unusual or severe headache