Sure, you hope the person who used the gym equipment before you wiped off their sweat before moving on. However, the equipment may be hiding something far more dangerous to your health – bacteria. While exercise is good for your health, the germs left behind on the exercise equipment in most gyms could actually be the source of many common illnesses. Learn the truth about bacteria on gym equipment, and how to protect yourself next time you are at the gym working out.
A Haven for Illness-Causing Bacteria
You probably think the toilet is the most bacteria-laden equipment you need to worry about. However, the exercise equipment, itself, is far more likely to be infested with bacteria according to a number of research studies.
The number of bacteria on a surface is often measured in colony forming units (CFU) per square inch. The average toilet in the home usually measures around 172 CFU. Public toilets may have as many as 3,200 CFU. Free weights were measured to have around 1.1 million CFU of bacteria; that is over 300 times the bacteria measured at a public toilet.
It gets worse. Treadmills and exercise bikes at the gym are some of the most widely used pieces of equipment. And, as expected, the quantity of bacteria measured on these surfaces was even higher. The treadmills tested the worst of any gym equipment, coming in slightly higher than exercise bikes, with both coming in with over 1.3 million CFU.
How Dangerous Is the Problem?
Not all bacteria are harmful. Millions of bacteria reside in your mouth and gut, many of them beneficial or simply coexisting with your body’s immune and digestive systems. Of the bacteria found on gym equipment, there are three major types: gram-positive cocci, gram-negative rods, and gram-positive rods. Of these, gram-positive rods rarely cause infections, and many others will not cause harm in the small amounts you might pick up by contact while working out. However, 70 percent of the germs found were of a type that have the potential to cause illness.
How Can I Protect Myself?
Wiping down the workout equipment before and after your workout is a good habit. It only takes a few seconds and can help preserve your health and that of everyone else using the gym.
It’s natural to reach up to wipe the sweat off your brow during or after a workout; however, the bacteria on your hands will rarely if ever make you ill unless it can get in the body. Keep your hands away from your face until you’ve had the opportunity to thoroughly wash them after your workout.
Water bottles are handy to grab and take to the gym but taking the lid on and off could transfer bacteria to the lip of the bottle. Consider purchasing a squeeze bottle that doesn’t require you to handle the top to get a drink.
Wash your hands immediately after a workout and change out of those gym clothes as soon as possible. Make sure to also wash those clothes as soon as possible, as they can be a breeding ground for bacteria in your gym bag.
By taking reasonable precautions, you can usually avoid catching a disease while at a public gym. These simple precautions only take a few moments and can be as important for your health as exercise.