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Germs at the Gym

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More Germ Hot Spots

Hot Spot: Gym Bag

Germ Meter = High

While most of the germs in your gym bag are your own, and therefore harmless to you, disease-causing microbes can latch on every time you place it on a bench, in a locker, or on the floor. The most common critters to hitch a ride: staph, salmonella, E. coli, and pseudomonas, which can cause eye infections, says Charles Gerba, PhD, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona.

Germ Warfare

Choose vinyl or plastic gym bags. Germs and bacteria are less likely to adhere to these materials, says Elaine L. Larson, PhD, the associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing. Keep dirty clothes and sneakers in a separate compartment or stash them in a plastic bag. At home, swab your gym bag inside and out with disinfectant wipes. If you use a canvas or cloth tote, toss it in the washing machine once a week. Use hot water and a bleach or peroxide-based detergent and then put the bag in the dryer for 45 minutes.

Hot Spot: Towel

Germ Meter = High

You grab a "clean" towel from the pile at the gym. What you can't see is that the fibers may be teeming with E. coli or MRSA. "Most gyms use the same hamper to transport dirty towels and clean ones," Tierno says.

Germ Warfare

Bring your own towel, marked with an X on one side with a permanent marker, Tierno advises; only that side should make contact with gym machines. Use the unmarked side to wipe sweat off yourself. Bring a separate towel if you're showering at the gym. Try an antimicrobial one, available at sporting goods stores, to reduce your risk for infection.

Hot Spot: Water Bottle

Germ Meter = Medium

When you take a sip of H2O during your workout, germs move into your bottle from the rim, and they reproduce quickly. Hundreds of thousands of bacteria can lurk at the bottom; using the bottle after just a few days of not washing it can be the equivalent of drinking from a public swimming pool, Larson says.

Germ Warfare

Avoid bottles with a pull-up spout or a built-in straw. Instead, choose a widemouthed bottle with a screw cap. Wash it in the dishwasher daily and store it in the fridge, Larson suggests. Germs are more likely to form when the bottle is warm.

Hot Spot: Cardio Machines

Germ Meter = Medium

Sweaty treadmills, ellipticals, and Spinning bikes are more likely to get wiped down after use than free weights are, experts say, but that doesn't mean these machines are clean. In a study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 63 percent of machines that had been disinfected still had traces of rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. And Tierno's research found staph, fungi, and yeast on gym bike seats.

Germ Warfare

Wipe down machines and seats thoroughly with disinfectant before and after you use them.

Hot Spot: Pool

Germ Meter = High

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 62 percent of pool-related diarrhea outbreaks are the result of the chlorine-resistant pathogen cryptosporidium, which is spread by contaminated fecal matter. In addition, bacteria, such as pseudomonas, can cause ear and eye infections, says Elizabeth Scott, PhD, a codirector of the Simmons College Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community in Boston.

Germ Warfare

Your gym should post data on the pH testing and cleaning of the pool, which is supposed to be done throughout the day. If that info isn't available, let your nose be your guide: Because chlorine releases its distinct smell as it reacts with microorganisms, the stronger the chlorine scent, the dirtier the pool. Always wear goggles and a swim cap or earplugs in the water.

Hot Spot: Shower

Germ Meter = High

The gym shower stall is riddled with fungi and organisms that can cause infections, like athlete's foot, ringworm, and warts.

Germ Warfare

Shower at home as soon as you get in the door, Tierno advises. Hanging out in sweaty workout clothes may lead to breakouts. If you do shower at the gym, use antimicrobial soap. Never shave there, because bugs can enter your body through tiny nicks. Blow-dry your feet to make sure they're moisture-free.

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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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