On any given day, those dumbbells and machines could be used by 100 or more people – and you know most of those people didn’t wipe down after they’ve used them. Not only is it kind of gross to not wipe down gym equipment after you’ve used it (no one wants to touch your sweat!), but it could put you and others at risk for catching what that person left on that dumbbell and make you sick.
A recent study at a university gym found that 10% of gym equipment had staph on it! Another study found that 63% of gym equipment had rhinovirus, the virus that causes the common cold. All it takes for you to get sick is to use an infected piece of equipment and then touch your eye, mouth, or nose. Some other germs that you might find at the gym may cause urinary tract infections, athlete’s foot, and warts.
Gyms present an ideal breeding grounds for germs – it’s warm, it’s moist, and there’s a lot of people coming through. Things like yoga mats and work benches may put you at a higher risk. Bacteria thrive on porous materials that get warm and damp. Medicine balls are also hotbeds for these germs.
Many of you may think that you’ve never gotten sick from the gym. However, it’s good to remember that many people may be carriers of illnesses without getting sick themselves.
While the reported cases of getting sick from the gym is not very common, there are enough reasons why wiping down is the golden rule at the gym.
Here are some tips to help prevent you from getting sick from the gym:
- Wash your hands. Wash your hands using soap for 20 seconds before and after workouts, according to CDC guidelines. Make sure to also dry your hands.
- Sanitize if you can’t wash. No soap and water? Then try alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Apply and rub all over all surfaces of the hands and fingers until hands are completely dry.
- Disinfect your gym equipment. They’re at the gym for a reason. Use disinfectant sprays and wipe down equipment and mats before and after you work out.
- Shower after working out. Your sweaty clothes are also ideal for bacteria to grow. Showering can help prevent this.
- Protect your feet. If you’re going to use the gym showers, wear some kind of footwear, like flip flops. Wash your feet and dry them to prevent athlete’s foot.
- Wash your clothes. Avoid re-wearing gym clothes if you haven’t washed them. This includes socks and swimwear.
- Cover your skin. If you have an open wound, cover them with a waterproof bandage. You should also want to avoid pools.
- Don’t share personal care items. If it comes into contact with someone else’s skin, avoid sharing. This includes towels, water bottles, soap, razor, combs, brushes, or make-up.
Next time you’re at the gym, don’t be caught being that person who leaves a trail of sweat everywhere.
Justin Chu is the Information and Communications Program Assistant at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He previously worked as a nutritionist in the clinical, community, and commercial settings after earning his bachelor’s in Clinical Nutrition at the University of California at Davis.