As much as you love working out at the gym, avoiding bacteria is a great idea. Wanna know your gym’s dirty little secret? It holds a great variety of germs, bacteria, and pesky bugs that cause colds and flu, athlete’s foot, and skin infections. They are everywhere. Here’s how to protect yourself. Since Athlete’s foot is just the tip of the iceberg, we decided to gather a few reasons why you should ALWAYS wipe gym equipment before working out (no exceptions). Here’s how to keep germs off of you—and hold your sick days for something fun.
Inspect the Gym Before Joining
Check to make sure the basics are covered—that it looks clean, they have an adequate housekeeping staff, and that the locker and workout areas look up to your standards. Also check to make sure it’s well-ventilated. An air-tight gym becomes a prime spot for airborne infections.
Be Aware of The Dirtiest Spots at the Gym
You hit the gym regularly to be healthy. Yet you may be getting more than flat abs and strong arms there. Norovirus, which causes stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, can survive for a month on the surface of exercise machines. The fungi responsible for foot infections multiply at a blinding pace in the shower. And microbes like MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can lead to dangerous skin infections, lurk in the locker room.
Choose vinyl or plastic gym bags. Germs and bacteria are less likely to adhere to these materials, says Elaine L. Larson, PhD, the associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing. Keep dirty clothes and sneakers in a separate compartment or stash them in a plastic bag. At home, swab your gym bag inside and out with disinfectant wipes. If you use a canvas or cloth tote, toss it in the washing machine once a week. Use hot water and a bleach or peroxide-based detergent and then put the bag in the dryer for 45 minutes.
Protect, Wipe-A-Way, and repeat
Put a band-aid on any skin break or cut you have before your workout. Open wounds–no matter how small–are all bacteria need to get into your body. If you’re prone to shaving cuts, you may want to hold off until after your workout. If the gym provides wipes, remember to wipe thoroughly each machine before using it. If they don’t, bring your own gym wipes and clean off any equipment you use–before you work out–to protect yourself. (And spread good karma by doing it afterwards as well).
Don’t Go Barefoot (or share gear)
The shower, sauna, hot tubs and steam rooms are the perfect post-workout treat, but they’re a breeding ground for germs. Wear flip-flops at all times to avoid irritating conditions like athlete’s foot. It’s so easy to borrow a friend’s bar of soap or stick of deodorant–but resist the urge! It’s a surefire way to start circulating unwanted germs and catch a nasty cold–or worse!