You probably think the gym is a healthy place to hang out, but a closer look reveals that it’s a breading ground for bacteria, fungus, and viruses that can lead to nasty infections from athlete’s foot to the itchy, blistery infection impetigo. Here are seven ways to lower the “yuck” factor while you work out.
- Wipe down workout surfaces. Use gym-provided antibacterial wipes and sprays—or bring your own if they aren’t available—before and after you use cardio machines, weight machines and even free weights. “They are not perfect, but they will minimize your risk,” says Dr. John E. Wolf, Jr., professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Infections can be transmitted from any surface that hasn’t been properly cleaned.
- BYO yoga mat. You can use antibacterial products on exercise mats, but your child’s pose may feel a lot more relaxing knowing that only you have gotten face-to-face with your mat. If you use your own mat, it’s a good idea to wipe it down after every practice and let it dry thoroughly before rolling it up. If you use a gym mat, wipe it down and practice with a towel on top for added protection.
- Be a flip flopper. “I always wear sandals by the pool, in the locker room and in the shower,” says Dr. Sandy Johnson, a dermatologist and marathoner in Fort Smith, Ark. “With regard to fungal infections in the gym, athlete’s foot is the most common,” says Wolf. “If people are running around barefoot in a locker room and they have fungus on their feet, it can catch on the surface and live long enough to be transmitted to someone else.”
- Be wary of water fountains. Hydration is an essential part of a healthy workout, but mind the source of your H2O. Bacteria live can live on the spout—so avoid making contact with it and your water bottle—and can also settle within the pipes. “I advise letting the water run for a minute and not touching the dispenser at all,” Johnson says.
- Don’t Touch Your Face. Scratching an itchy nose may result in you getting sick, Dr. Johnson says. Germs like the cold and flu enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth. If you have to touch your face, use a clean towel, or wash your hands first.
- Get the laundry low-down. It’s likely that your gym’s towels are fine to use, but it’s not a bad idea to do a little investigating. “If you use gym towels, make sure they use bleach or steam to kill germs,” Johnson says.
- Hit the showers—STAT. Once you’ve completed your workout, get out of those damp, dirty duds. “Sitting around in sweaty clothing can increase the risk of fungal infections and can cause skin irritations,” Wolf says. “Get out of wet clothes as soon as you can and take a shower to decrease the chances of infections and irritations.”