Mind Your Skin: The Germs Lurking In Your Gym

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How clean is your gym? A study by FitRated found that free-standing weights contained 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. You may not realize it, but with its warm moist environment, the gym is an ideal place for germs and bacteria to develop. It is no surprise then that gym goers can be susceptible to a variety of skin conditions. 

Why are gym-goers at risk?

Gym users are prone to a variety of conditions due to excessive sweating that opens up the pores and exposes the skin to conditions like blackheads. While these skin problems are minor and can be easily treated by using an effective blackhead removal tool, there are other skin problems that you might encounter in your local gym, which may prove more difficult to treat.

Nobody can deny that working out at your local gym is good for you. Whether you hit the weight machines, the cardio machines, or focus on just free-standing weights, there is a small risk that you will come into contact with germs and bacteria. And because going to the gym is becoming increasingly popular, more people are using the same equipment, which may increase the opportunities for germs to spread.

Recreational athletes as well as participants in organized sports are prone to fungal, viral, and bacterial skin infections. Sweat, abrasions, and direct or indirect contact with the lesions and secretions of others combine to make every athlete’s skin vulnerable to a host of problems. While the chance of catching one of these skin conditions is small, it is worth being aware of the kinds of conditions that can be shared amidst gym goers.

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What lurks within the gym walls?

A 2016 article by Men’s Health online reported on some of the skin infections that can be picked up from your local gym. Ringworm is just one example. It is a fungal infection that leaves a visible red ring on the skin. It thrives in moist environments and loves sweaty gym machines. Another is Athlete’s foot, a type of ringworm that infects the feet, causing extreme itching and the skin between the toes to crack open. It thrives in moist and wet environments and loves lockers and shower floors.

Staph, caused by the bacteria staphylococcus, is less common but extremely nasty if contracted. These pus-filled red bumps can lead to fever. They are transmitted through open sores or cuts so can be spread by anything touched. Folliculitis, a specialised form of Staph that enters hair follicle roots, causes similar symptoms to its cousin. Verrucas, which are caused by humanpapilloma (HPV) virus—look like small, skin-colored bumps speckled with little black dots. HPV thrives in moist and wet environments and can be picked up by touching infected gym equipment or from the locker room or shower floors.

What to do if you were to catch one of these?

Some of these infections sound alarming, but there is limited academic research to indicate that the number of gym goers who contract any form of skin condition, as significant. This was supported by a 2014 study published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCIB), which concluded that there was evidence of bacterial transfer at gyms and health clubs but further research was required to ascertain the numbers of resulting medical cases.

For most skin infections, you can purchase over-the-counter medications to fight infections like verrucas and athlete’s foot. For the other infections, you should consult your medical practitioner, who can prescribe the right medication.

Protecting yourself from infection

So, what preventative measures can be taken to reduce the risks? Being prepared ahead of time is the key. You can even visit the gym before joining and check out how clean it looks. Ask how often cleaning takes place. Does it have hand sanitizer and liquid soap readily avaiable? Is the equipment well maintained?

But making sure you take your own steps to protect yourself and other gym users is crucial.

  • Always ensure that any cuts you have are covered.
  • Wear shoes or feet protectors in the changing rooms and showers.
  • Carry a clean towel and anti-bacterial wipes to clean machines after use.
  • Carry separate clean clothes to use after your workout and shower.
  • Do not share personal items like soap, shampoo, or shaving equipment.

Germs and bacteria love the warm, damp environment created by our gyms and health clubs. But by following some very simple and common-sense steps, you can greatly reduce the chances of you ever contracting any of these conditions. You don’t have to let germs and bacteria spoil your next workout.

By Jane Sandwood