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Germs at the Gym

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Your fitness club's dirty little secret: Bugs that cause colds and flu, athlete's foot, and skin infections are everywhere. Here's how to protect yourself.

The Dirtiest Spots at the Gym

You hit the gym regularly to be healthy and fit. Yet you may be getting more than flat abs and strong arms there. Gyms are hotbeds of germ activity, researchers say. Norovirus, which causes stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, can survive for a month on the surface of exercise machines. The fungi responsible for foot infections multiply at a blinding pace in the shower. And microbes like MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can lead to dangerous skin infections, lurk in the locker room. To help you stay safe, FITNESS asked top experts to ID the biggest danger zones in the gym and to share the best germ-beating strategies.

Hot Spot: Free Weights, Weight Machines, Exercise Balls

Germ Meter = High

Because so many people handle it, this equipment is rife with bugs and viruses that can lead to colds and other infections. "I've even found MRSA on an exercise ball in a gym," says Philip Tierno Jr., PhD, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU Medical School and the author of The Secret Life of Germs.

Germ Warfare

Wipe equipment with disinfectant before and after you use it. No spray at your gym? Carry antibacterial gel and rub it on your hands before and after your workout.

Hot Spot: Locker Room

Germ Meter = High

The sweaty, humid locker room is the perfect petri dish for nasty buggers such as staph, strep, and MRSA, Tierno says. The danger starts at ground level. From outdoors, sneakers and other shoes track in fecal matter (eew!), which harbors organisms that can give you stomach flu and hepatitis A. And before you sit on the bench naked, consider this: Tierno's studies have detected traces of vaginal yeast there, which can put you at risk for an infection.

Germ Warfare

Always wear flip-flops in the locker room and shower; avoid sitting on the bench unclothed.

Hot Spot: Exercise Mat

Germ Meter = High

As you stretch, strike a yoga pose, or take a group exercise class, you could be lying in a slew of microbes that can cause skin infections, athlete's foot, colds and flu, and hepatitis A.

Germ Warfare

Bring your own mat and don't share it. After each use, clean the mat with a bleach-based wipe or a 60 percent alcohol disinfectant spray and let it air-dry.

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hminniti3021919 wrote:

I agree totally ...keep safe.

1/19/2014 11:13:55 PM Report Abuse
robmarriv wrote:

Very good information I always wipe down machine and weights wash hands I see many people who DO NOT !!!

11/4/2013 10:25:20 AM Report Abuse
hanleeee wrote:

Regardless whether you have an invincible immune power, should you have a skin break, germs will enter your body. I am wiping excercise machines' contact parts before and after I use them.

11/3/2013 03:21:32 PM Report Abuse
osillyme2002 wrote:

While it is true that with a healthy immune system this shouldn't be a big deal, there are 'superbugs' out there that cannot be fought off by even the healthiest immune systems. MRSA is more common than ever. People can be colonized with MRSA with no symptoms; while others become ridden with cysts and septic once it gets into their bloodstream. It is still, as always, a good idea to wash your hands often and wipe off all equipment before and after use.

11/3/2013 11:58:33 AM Report Abuse
rebeccarybak wrote:

I don't think anyone is trying to make anyone paranoid. Any surface that is used by dozens of people is full of germs. It's common sense. Wipe things down before and after if you feel- but most important is wash your hands- just like anywhere else.

11/3/2013 10:57:02 AM Report Abuse

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