The gym can be a great place to stay in shape and improve your health overall, but it’s also a high-traffic public area where hundreds, if not thousands of people are coming into contact with the same equipment and sweating profusely. If you aren’t careful, you could greatly increase your risk of illness or infection, and increase the risks of others.
Fortunately, a handful of hygienic habits can help negate these risks.
Problems to Avoid
Going to the gym frequently without paying attention to hygiene could leave you with one or more of the following afflictions:
- Fungal infections. Fungal infections can be contagious, and can arise when a part of your body is exposed to dark, moist conditions (like your feet in old, sweaty gym socks). The appearance of toe nail fungal infections can be improved with over-the-counter products, but it’s still good to avoid unsanitary conditions if you can help it. Prescription products are also available that can assist in treatment.
- Warts can spread through contact, especially if you have an open cut or scratch. Because gym equipment is frequently touched by multiple people, your likelihood of developing warts can increase if you don’t practice good hygiene.
- Contagious diseases. The gym is also a hotbed of activity that can make you more likely to catch a contagious disease. For example, you may develop the common cold if the illness is in circulation at your local gym.
Follow these important habits to stay clean and healthy while at the gym:
- Wipe down the equipment. Your gym should offer some method of wiping down the gym equipment, such as disposable antibacterial wipes, or a combination of spray bottles and paper towels. Whatever the case, take the time to wipe down the equipment and any surface you come in direct contact with. Patrons should take it upon themselves to wipe down equipment after they’re done using it, but if you want to be extra cautious, you may also wipe it down before you start using it.
- Wash your hands regularly. Even if you’re disinfecting the equipment every time you use something new, you’re probably still coming into contact with unclean surfaces and other people. Accordingly, try to wash your hands on a periodic basis, including before and after you work out. Washing your hands (correctly, and with soap) is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses.
- Avoid touching your face. You won’t always be able to wash your hands immediately after touching an infected surface. If your dirty hands touch your face, it’s more likely the germs will infect you (due to the number of open orifices on your face). Try to avoid this until you wash your hands.
- Be mindful of your feet. Your feet can be a problematic area, since they can be exposed to many unclean surfaces and then trapped in an environment that’s dark and moist-perfect for allowing certain life forms to flourish. Accordingly, be extra mindful of your feet; always wear flip-flops or other footwear in locker rooms and showering areas, instead of going barefoot. You may also want to use some form of athletic powder to keep your feet dry and healthy before working out. After your workout, be sure to clean your feet.
- Cover any cuts and scratches. Cuts and scratches can be harmful both to you and other people, since they provide an open door through which bacteria, viruses, and fungi can travel. If you have a scratch and you touch an area that’s been infected, the infection will be more likely to travel to you. Make sure you put a bandage over any open cuts on your body.
- Keep your own items. Gyms often offer several public items that can be used communally, and your fellow gym-goers might be open about sharing their items and equipment as well. For example, you might be able to use a public gym mat for your exercises or borrow a friend’s water bottle between sets. However, it’s usually best to keep your items to yourself; bring your own mat, your own water bottle, and your own towels to ensure you remain as hygienic as possible.
- Shower as soon as possible. When you’re done at the gym, you might be tempted to crash on the couch or take a nap, even if you don’t feel dirty. However, it’s in your best interest to shower as soon as possible, so you can give yourself a thorough wash and rid yourself of any germs you might have picked up.
Following these basic tips should keep you in good, healthy condition, even when using public equipment. You don’t have to be a perfectionist about it, but every additional step you take to keep yourself clean can reduce your chances of developing an ailment.