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How to avoid bacteria at the gym

Updated on March 12, 2007

We go to the gym to get strong and healthy, so the gym is the last place we would think would be a threat to our well-being, but research shows that workout facilities can be a breeding ground for illnesses ranging from colds and viruses to bacterial infections. Microbiologists have discovered that dangerous bacteria lurk not only in the unpleasant sweaty residue left on gym equipment, but in hot-tubs, changing rooms and even sports drinks bottles. Some of the germs and bacteria can thrive for days in the humid gym environment, and are killed only when the area is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.

In a recent survey for Men's Fitness magazine, Dr Derren Ready, a clinical scientist in microbiology at University College Hospital in London, admits he was shocked when swabs taken from one unnamed London gym revealed dangerously high levels of bacteria. One site harbored 132 million bacteria in an area the size of a quarter, while the average count was 16 million, he says. Compare those levels with the 500 bacteria you could expect to find in a similar sample taken from a tiolet seat, and you can see why experts are increasingly concerned.


Gym Equipment

Expects have found that germs are found in every nook and cranny of the gym. On the bench-press, the bikes, boxing gloves, literally everything. Sweaty residue on gym equipment, particularly the machines often used by several people in quick succession, such as weights and exercise bikes, can also harbor infectious bacteria. The actual sweat is really not a problem, it is primarily the moisture from sweat that causes problems by helping germs to grow.

Locker Rooms and Showers

Locker rooms, and especially showers are found by expects to have a very high number of bacteria, including the types of bacteria which cause athletes feet and ringworm. They showers may look clean, but don't think that gyms cleans the showers like you clean yours at home (if they clean them at all!)

Dirty towels

Dirty towels handed out to members are also a breeding ground for viruses and bateria. Gyms and health clubs are not governed by the same standards as hospitals, which set regulations for the temperature at which towels must be cleaned, so just because the towels say "clean" does not mean they are germ free

Clothing and Accessories

The average pair of running shoes has 76 times more fungi than a toilet bowl! The warm, moist environment acts as a breeding ground for spores. Water bottles are carry germs and bacteria, usually from not being cleaned properly.

Hot-tubs and Swimming Pools

Poorly-maintained hot-tubs and swimming pools can be a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria. And the warm temperature makes matters worse, the chlorine in hot tubs loses much of its disinfecting power, while the germs thrive. Even in cool pool water bacteria can live if the water is not maintained. The best way to prevent such bacteria from forming is to clean out the pipes to the pool, not just clean the pool, but this is open not done by the gym, or not done frequently enough.

Sauna and Steam Room

The wooden benches in saunas and steam rooms which have lots of crevices, providing gaps for bacteria to live and thrive in. And the warm temperature again just makes matters worse, providing the ideal breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

DON'T BE SCARED OFF FROM THE GYM! Going to the gym is still one of the best things you can do for yourself, exercise can help prevent medical problems and boost your mental health- so I really hope I haven't scared you off. And there are some very easy ways to KEEP YOURSELF SAFE! Just follow the rules below:


(1) Wash your hands thoroughly before and after exercise. I know you hear it all the time, but it is the most effective way to keep off the germs. Those cold-causing viruses and respiratory bacteria don't live for very long outside the body, but while they are alive they are looking for a way into your body. So after touching weights and machine hand rails, try your best to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, ears and mouth until you can lather up.

(2) Wipe down the machines, preferably with disinfectant wipes, before and after use. Gyms should disinfect them on a regular basis, but it is good gym etiquette to make sure you don't leave a pool of sweat behind you. And it will give you peace of mind to know they are clean before you use them, because you cleaned them!

(3) Bring your own sweat towel, actually, bring two! Place one on machines and benches before you sit down to protect yourself. Use the other to blot sweat off your body. If you bring your own towel, you can ensure it is clean and germ free.

(4) Wash your water bottle, most people just use and refill, in between uses make sure you sterilize your water bottle with boiling water or put it in the dishwasher to kill the germs.

(5) Wipe off yours shoes or leave them outside, your sneakers have a large amount of bacteria, more than most toilet bowls! Don't bring them into your house, and if you have to, make sure you wipe them down with disinfectant.

(6) Wear flip-flops when walking in the shower or sauna. Fungi and bacteria thrive in damp shower stalls. Flip-flops won't keep you fully fungi-free, but it is better than going barefoot.

(7) Sit on a towel or wear shorts in the sauna to avoid direct contact with the seating, which may contain germs and bacteria.

(8) Use your own mat or cover the one you borrow with a clean towel. Otherwise, you could end up coming in contact with bacteria and germs left behind on the mats.

(9) Change your sweaty shorts. You are more likely to develop a yeast or bacterial infection from leaving them on than from anything else you would encounter at the health club. So shed the shorts right after your workout. If you have post-exercise errands to run and can't shower right away, change into dry underwear and shorts first, then wash up and dry off thoroughly at your opportunity.


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  • Natashabassett profile image

    Natashabassett 9 years ago from Hayward

    Ew this is really gross. I am not going to the gym anymore, and next time i go to that hot tub place where you rent it our for one hour i am bringing somebleach to add to the water.

  • profile image

    kamran 9 years ago

    to avoid smoke pollution

  • profile image

    brainyheads 8 years ago

    really good information... i go to gym regularly and have become much more aware... I used to workout with my bare hands on the weights and exercise machines... i've even tried gym gloves trying to get rid of that nasty smelly sweaty gloves... Recently i've been trying out these new workout grips... and i like how they feel... <a href="">workout grips<a> This is from a guy i met at golds gym that sells these grips... he was working out with em...

  • Specificity profile image

    Specificity 8 years ago from EAU CLAIRE, WI

    This is a great article on an oft overlooked aspect of health. A thumbs up for you!

  • bcampbell23 profile image

    bcampbell23 7 years ago from Chandler AZ

    hey- great content often underlooked aspect of preventing illness and infection. keep up the great work.

  • AdamCairn profile image

    AdamCairn 7 years ago from UK

    Eurgh, I never realised that gyms could be so unhygienic!

  • profile image

    nxcguy 7 years ago

    what a bunch of germaphobes. being exposed to germs is a part of life.I go to the ymca everyone wipes of stuff even if there is no sweat. i better stay inside in the middle of my living room wearing my helmit in the fetal position.

  • profile image

    Amy Appleton 7 years ago

    Stear clear of hot tubs and spas at gyms. They are over chlorinated and full of bacteria. Instead, invest in your own hot tub for your home!

  • profile image

    furniture assembly 5 years ago

    A very informative idea about the fitness gym and as well as the health safety

  • profile image

    Alex 5 years ago

    I use a really great towel I got at because going to the gym is freaky sometimes. I go behind people who leave a bucket of sweat from their neck on the bench and just walk away. People are barbarians. Gyms should REQUIRE that everyone bring a towel with the or they can not enter.

  • profile image

    Angeli 5 years ago

    After just 2 visits to the new YMCA I ended up with Strep. Never had it in my life. The have a rag and bottle of disinfectanct at every machine, but that rag is gross. I bring my own towel, but now I know that everything I touch is bacteria bound. The doors, the lockers,treadmills,workout equipment. I use the anti- bacterial hand sanitizers not enough. So now I am going to buy a light wieght pair of gloves with leather strips in the palms. I have never been so sick ever even with the flu. I worked as a hairdresser for years in a very mixed environment never anything, this came from the Y. I surely will go because I love it, but a lesson learned the hard way.

  • profile image

    LB 5 years ago

    I got servilely sick from the germs at the gym. I had to go to the hospital. Only morons would not take this thread seriously.

  • profile image

    Tom2592 5 years ago

    Not only that but I read when you work out really hard your immune system is temporarily weakened and lowered so in effect your in a bacterial swamp with the immune shields down.

  • OdoroxGuy profile image

    OdoroxGuy 5 years ago

    Why aren't clubs and such facilities using simple and existing technology driven systems to deal with such concerns? Has no one heard about the use of hydroxyl generation to improve cleansing methods?

  • profile image

    Michael 5 years ago

    Good article. I used to goto YMCA in Tennessee were they always clean machines , since I've been in California at LA fitness where they never clean them or have towels near by I've gotten sick 3x in 2 months with colds and strep from going there! I will never goto gym again without full gloves. And under armor shirt .

  • My Local Fitness profile image

    Sirak 4 years ago from Los Angeles

    Very useful article, I used to go a local gym that did absolutely nothing to keep it clean so getting in and out of there was disgusting. Did all of the things you suggested to do actually. Probably why I never got sick!

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