It’s a place designed to help you get healthy, but ironically the gym can also make you sick. A recent hygiene study of a family fitness center in Ohio analyzed more than 100 samples from various locations in the gym and found that the most contaminated surfaces were door handles, shower floors, free weight benches, and dumbbells.
Tests done on three separate days found “extremely high” levels of germs on these surfaces. The study, funded by Coverall, a cleaning-product company, also found worrisome levels of germs on the front desk check-in area, water fountains, and alarmingly, the gym’s childcare area.
Gyms and recreational facilities rank as one of the most germy-laden environments, with 28 percent of surfaces testing positive for contamination, according to an analysis by Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona who has published hundreds of scientific papers on infectious diseases and germs.
Among the most dangerous gym germs are the norovirus—the leading cause of acute gastroenteritis—E. coli (a common cause of food poisoning), and the deadly superbug MRSA, which triggers hard-to-treat infections, reports Thomas Tallman, MD, a staff physician in the emergency department of the Cleveland Clinic who wasn’t involved with the hygiene study.
“Another locker room risk is Klebsiella pneumonia, which causes pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and bloodstream infections,” adds Dr. Tallman. A particularly dangerous form of this bacteria, known as CRKP (carbapenem-resistant Klebsiella pneumonia), is resistant to almost all antibiotics.
Here’s how you can defend yourself against the germs you’ll most likely run into at your fitness facility.
Zumba, hot yoga, group Pilates class, or any other group fitness situation lends itself to germs (especially influenza) spreading through simply inhaling water droplets exhaled by your fellow workout buddies.
Stay healthy: Keep at least six feet away from anyone who’s coughing or may be contagious. Get a flu vaccination during flu season and avoid touching your face (one way germs enter your system) until you can wash your hands with soap and water or, at a minimum, use a sanitizer hand gel, recommends Dr. Gerba.
Water fountains, particularly their handles, can become contaminated by a variety of germs, including norovirus, which can survive for up to 4 weeks on an infected surface, says Dr. Gerba. Some people boost the risk by touching the spout with their mouths, which can also lead to transmission.
Stay healthy: Carry portable alcoholic wipes and clean the handle and spout before you drink. An even safer solution is to carry your own water bottle and skip the fountain entirely, says Dr. Tallman.
Germs can easily use your gym bag to hitch a ride from your car trunk to the gym locker room and back to your home. The germs and bacteria that lurk depend on where they latched on to your bag.
Keep a disinfectant spray such as Lysol in your gym bag or the trunk of your car. Spray the outside of your bag before you bring it into the house. And don’t put your shoes in your gym bag—a study by Dr. Gerba, found that shoes can harbor nine different types of microbes that cause intestinal, urinary, eye, lung, and blood infections.
In his study, which was sponsored by the Rockport Company, all but one of the shoes analyzed were also contaminated with coliform bacteria (originating in feces), with the average shoe containing a whopping 421,000 bacteria units per centimeter. And even the insides of the shoes were contaminated, harboring an average of 2,887 bacterial units.
Your Water Bottle
A water bottle saves you from risking a drink out of a contaminated water fountain, but if you touch the spout of your water bottle with germy hands you may not be much better off.
Choose a bottle that doesn’t require you to bring your fingers close to the drinking surface, such as one with a nipple you can pull open with your mouth. If you choose a reusable bottle, be sure to clean it after each use with hot, soapy water.
Dr. Tallman notes that any high-contact surface is a risk—since 80% of infectious diseases are spread by direct or indirect hand contact—and this includes those colorful balls you use during a workout. Fitness balls can contain a number of germs, including Staphylococcus aureus, a common cause of staph infections. The good news is you won’t get sick by simply touching it, as long as you don’t have an open cut and avoid touching your face.
The humid air in a steam room may seem the most likely place for germs to grow, but the floor should be your biggest concern. Walking barefoot with even the smallest crack in your skin could enable a fungus to enter and cause a low-grade infection.
Also avoid sitting naked on wooden benches, which can harbor nasty germs, including human papillomavirus (HPV) , warns Dr. Tallman. HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease, causes genital warts and certain cancers.
The same soft, squishy materials that make cycling bike seats and handlebars comfortable can also contain germs ranging from MRSA to strep and E. coli, reports Dr. Tallman. “This type of material acts like a sponge and frequently becomes contaminated.”
Stay healthy: Antibacterial wipes can kill up to 99 percent of surface bacteria, notes Dr. Tallman; however, it may be more difficult to disinfect spongy surfaces using wipes alone. Always wash your hands with soap and water immediately after class, and consider investing in sanitary handlebar covers if you want extra protection. Since bacteria can transfer to your clothes during a workout, be sure to toss your gym outfit in the laundry. Lastly, take the time for a thorough shower—you’ll be washing away more than just sweat.
By Lisa Collier Cool VIA Yahoo Health