By John Hand –
People swear by the mental and physical benefits of a great workout at the gym. Stress relief enhanced health benefits—even a renewed self-worth from working out—are all part of the gains. The exposure to gym germs that understandably linger in an environment built for sweat, hot bodies and heavy breathing is not appealing. The infectious concerns are particularly worrisome in this pandemic-focused world.
There are many factors that go into a quality gym experience. A facility having all the necessary equipment and lots of helpful trainers ready to offer advice or even spot an extra heavy bench press can make one facility a winner over another. Yet one of the biggest factors determining a gym’s quality is cleanliness.
Just ask users. One survey, in fact, recently reported that someone who neglected to wipe off the equipment after using it was the leading pet peeve of gym users. Almost 52 percent of those surveyed cited it as their main complaint. Admittedly, a simple wipe-down of a heavily used piece of equipment may not make it hospital-clean. But it’s a good start considering that it is easy for germs and bacteria to live and flourish at a gym and that cleanliness helps prevents the spread of various infections and viruses.
A pre-pandemic study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health underscored that threat by identifying 63 species of bacteria on surfaces of gym equipment used in Memphis, Tennessee. One of the most common bacteria was staphylococcus, which causes staph infections.
These infections are not only serious, as the University of Maryland Medical System reported they spread easily through person-to-person contact or by simply touching dirty equipment. The Maryland study added that staphylococcus commonly was on power striders and elliptical machines.
The Mayo Clinic notes that antibiotics can treat these infections, which usually offsets any major health risks. Nonetheless, a staph infection can become deadly if the bacteria enter the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart. Cleanliness is the easiest way to prevent its spread at the gym, which means washing hands regularly, and wiping down equipment before and after using it.
Fungi is another common gym germ, reported Dr. Ramsey Shehab of Henry Ford Health System. Fungal infections thrive in hot and sweaty environments, which makes locker rooms a great incubator. These infections may not be as serious as staph, but they lead to unpleasant maladies from yeast infections to jock itch and athlete’s foot. Wearing flip-flops in locker rooms, washing clothes after workouts, and thoroughly drying off after showers are some of the best ways to stop these infections.
Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 outbreak brought new awareness and concerns about the spread of diseases at gyms, which resulted in many centers shutting down or requiring their patrons to wear masks while working out due to the easy transmission of COVID at gyms.
There was good reason for these controls, as viruses like COVID spread through aerosols or airborne particles. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted the average person resting shoots out 580 particles per minute. During a high-intensity workout at the gym, this rate increases to 76,000 particles per minute—a whopping 132-fold increase.
COVID undoubtedly increased gym-germ awareness because the risks were so high and the restrictions so public. But gyms have always been the place to catch the flu or common cold. Is there a way to prevent getting infected at the gym? No, of course not. But there are ways to mitigate infection risks.
All gyms disinfect high-traffic areas, but some do better than others. Look for uber clean facilities. It is also a good idea to go to larger gyms, which allows people to spread out, making it more difficult for airborne particles to move from one person to the next. Gyms with quality ventilation systems are another plus. In addition, regular hand washing, locker room precautions and equipment wipe-downs help.
Embracing these actions and precautions is the best way to navigate the risks while enjoying the benefits.