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The healthy way to keep gym germs at bay

August 17, 2010 13:08 IST

You visit them to keep fit, but gym germs can actually cause a health setback if you're not careful. Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

From yoga mats to exercise machines and in many other spots, gyms are a breeding ground for germs. Hence, certain precautions are necessary to steer clear of germs, say experts.

On The Early Show on Saturday Morning, Dr Kavita Mariwala discussed tips one can try to keep from getting more than you bargain for during your workout. She said that the best thing one can do is wash your hands frequently to stay away from any infection, reports CBS News.

Also, before grabbing any mat, take a quick look at it and wipe it down with anti-bacterial wipes, especially the part you expect to be lying on, and let it dry. She also said its best to go with anti-microbial instead of antibacterial soaps, because one is hitting all classes of germs: fungal, bacterial, and viral.

Lastly one should use two gym bags, one for dirty clothes and one for clean clothes. Separate what's dirty and what's clean, so germs don't sit and incubate or spread.

Mariwala also suggested some tips that can guard against infection:

  • Cover cuts with waterproof dressing before swimming; chlorine doesn't kill everything.
  • Run water fountain for 15 seconds before drinking; make sure it runs clear, because you don't know how close the person was to it before you.
  • Bring your own bathing essentials, including a towel, razors and shower shoes.
  • Wipe down all equipment with anti-bacterial wipes; this includes not just the handles, but the buttons too -- anything you're touching.

In addition to the above advice, health experts also recommend the following:

Remain focused

Working out with machines can expose you to the risk of injuries. Many of these injuries -- like crushing or pinching caused by moving parts of machines like treadmills -- occur when a person is not paying attention to the workout. So it is important while in the gym to forget your fellow exercisers and pay more attention to what you are doing

Many people also hurt themselves by indulging in unhealthy competition. There is no point proving that you can lift ten kilos more than your gym mate, only to end up with a muscle strain or pull, or worse, torn ligament or tendon.

Understand the limits of your own body and work out accordingly. The bottom line therefore is, exercise for yourself, and not for others.

Maintain hygiene

To avoid getting infected:

  • Avoid touching or wiping your face with unwashed hands. This may transfer germs that can cause boils and pimples.
  • Do not walk barefoot in the gym. Gym floors may be home to fungi causing diseases such as athlete's foot or onchomycosis (a condition that causes yellow, brittle toe nails). Samples from dirty gym towels have also revealed the presence of a highly infectious and dangerous organism called CA-MARS (community-acquired multi-antibiotic resistant staphylococcus), which triggers pneumonia and skin infections.
  • Try not to use the showers in the gym as the warm and humid environment breeds disease-causing germs. If you must shower, wear slippers and use good quality medicated soap.
  • Particularly avoid hot tub baths in gyms. These have been known to facilitate transmission of a disease called 'hot tub lungs' (a lung condition that could be fatal). Saunas and steam rooms also have high levels of Citrobacter freundii, a bacterium that causes pneumonia and blood and urinary tract infections. If you must use the sauna in the gym, use your towel to sit on the bench. Minimise your contact with anything in the steam room.
  • Give the gym a miss if you have a cold or the flu. This will save your gym mates from getting infected by your bug, plus give you a probably much-needed day off.

Wear appropriate clothing

Avoid wearing tight jeans, nylon pants, or clothing made of spandex. These trap moisture and restrict aeration, causing sweating around the groin that leads to itches, irritation and, in the case of women, vaginal infections (fabrics such as polypropylene wick moisture away from the skin while allowing it to breathe). Apply generous amounts of cornstarch-based, moisture-absorbent powders with anti-microbial agents on the inside of underwear and panties to keep body areas dry and free of infections.

A little caution not only keeps you in good shape but also protects you from the hidden dangers that lurk in gyms.

Inputs: ANI is your online health buddy, helping you to manage your health better with its various services such as expert blogs, ask the expert, health resources and health networking.