Most people only worry about catching a cold or flu in the winter, but you can be infected at any time of the year. These germs are no excuse to start skipping workouts, though—there are a few things you can do to avoid these germs. Try not to touch your face, as that gives germs a fast track into your body and bring hand sanitizer for after your workout. Also be sure to clean and dry all equipment properly. Read on to find out the dirtiest spots in your gym and specific tips to keep you germ-free while you stay fit.
Your gym’s communal mats are great for stretching and especially helpful in group yoga class but they are often overlooked when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting. Mats that aren’t cleaned well can spread skin infections like athlete’s foot and staph infections. The best way to avoid these and other health issues is to bring your own yoga mat and to clean and dry it properly after each use.
Strength training equipment is used quickly and shared by lots of people. While we all know we’re supposed to clean each piece of equipment after each use, many people overlook the free weights and kettle bells. Cold and flu infections can be found on this equipment, so it’s important to wipe it down before and after to avoid getting sick.
Public pools are notoriously disgusting—even if you don’t see it, the germs are there. An overwhelming “chlorine” smell means that the chemical is fighting hard against the billions of microbes that people have brought into the pool. Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs) have been on the rise and common health issues include everything from skin infections to gastrointestinal infections. Check with your gym and ask when the water was last tested and, as always, try not to swallow the water.
While the cardio machines may be one of the most frequently cleaned pieces of equipment in the gym, the buttons on the display often get forgotten in the wiping-down process. Sanitize the machine before and after you use it and try not to hold on to the rails, you’ll get a better workout if you let go anyway.
This personal accessory totes around some of your sweatiest gear and regularly sits in one of the grimiest places in the gym—the locker room. Whether you stash your bag in a locker or put it on the floor, the bag can pick up germs that might cause skin or eye infections. Clean your bag regularly and keep sweaty clothes and shoes in plastic bags in your gym bag.
Anything that spends all of the time on the ground is bound to be pretty dirty. But your shoes aren’t just tracking in dirt and fecal matter. A study out of the University of `Arizona found your shoes may also be carrying harmful bacteria—E coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Serratia ficaria were three types of bacteria found during the study. To keep the bacteria from spreading, don’t wear your shoes around your house, wash them regularly and pack them in a plastic bag within your gym bag.
Even if you are the only one using your water bottle and water’s the only thing you’re putting in it, you need to thoroughly wash and dry your water bottle after each use. Reusing a dirty bottle and leaving moisture inside can allow bacteria to grow. Opt for a reusable bottle with a wide opening at the top as those are easier to clean and dry.
Wet areas are a haven for germs and the water fountain is no exception. Remember to keep your mouth off the spout and beware of germs lingering on the button. Experts recommend using a clean, reusable water bottle, but be careful not to let that touch the spout either.
Heat and humidity create the optimal environment for bacteria to thrive, which means locker rooms can be home to anything from athlete’s foot to MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which causes tough to treat—and occasionally deadly—infections. Always wear flip flops in the locker room and shower and keep contact with other surfaces to a minimum.