Gyms: Good for Overall Health, but Maybe Not Your Lungs

New study examines air quality in Lisbon gyms and the results are unsettling

When you think about the cleanliness of your local fitness center, you probably think of how many people have put their germy hands on the weights (and forgot to wipe them down) and how often the showers are cleaned. What you may not have considered is the air quality, which can be just as important as clean equipment and showers, but is so often overlooked.

A new study that’s set to be published in next month’s issue of Building and Environment sought some answers regarding air quality in gyms around Lisbon and what they found might surprise you.

A team of researchers from the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Technical University of Delft in Holland installed air-quality monitoring devices in 11 gyms throughout Lisbon. The monitors were placed in weight rooms and several studios where classes are held and set to record air pollutants when the gyms were at their busiest. Additionally, monitors at three of the gyms were set to take measurements throughout the day for comparison.

According to The New York Times, the leader of the study, Carla Ramos, said Portuguese fitness centers are similar to fitness centers in the U.S.

After looking at the measurements from each of the gyms, there were some unsettling commonalities. High levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide were present, often in amounts considered unacceptable by European standards for indoor air quality. The worst air conditions were reported during aerobics classes, due to the high volume of people moving in a confined space.

The levels of dust and chemicals like formaldehyde are the biggest issue. According to Ramos, when dust and chemicals are present in high quantities they can contribute to asthma and other respiratory conditions. High levels of carbon dioxide, though not harmful to health, can cause fatigue of both the mind and body.

At the conclusion of the study, Ramos said they found the gyms met the criteria for poor indoor air quality. She noted the air quality in gyms is especially important because people are usually breathing heavily while there and through their mouths, bypassing the filtration system of the nose. The deep breathing allows pollutants to “reach deeper into the lungs compared to resting situations.”

Though their findings are unfortunate for frequent asthmatic gym-goers, it’s important to note that this study is not a reason to stop going to the gym altogether. Instead, Ramos suggests talking to the gym manager about ventilation and cleaning products if you sense the air is stale at your local fitness center.