Gyms Are Fertile Ground for Germs

Going to the gym is supposed to improve your health, but it can also be a hotbed of cold and flu bugs, an expert warns.

“The biggest thing about the gym is there are a lot of areas where germs, viruses and fungus can be year-round,” said Bryan Combs, a nurse practitioner in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Nursing.

Handlebars on elliptical machines, treadmills, stationary bicycles and weight machines are among the dirtiest places in gyms.

“Even if the handlebars are cleaned regularly, handlebars are going to be covered in bacteria,” said Combs, who added that you should clean the machines before and after each time you use them.

“You need to use wipes or a disinfectant spray to wipe down the machines or weights before and after,” Combs said in a university news release. “Once you clean the equipment, hang your towel on an area that you know is clean. When you get done, clean it again for the next person.”

Towels are another potential problem. “While the towels have been washed, a lot of gyms use the same container to carry dirty towels to the washing area and then use the same one to bring clean towels back, so they can become contaminated again,” Combs said.

Bring your own clean towel to the gym and wash your towel after each workout.

It’s also important to wash your water bottles with soap and hot water after every use.

“Some people use the same water bottle each time they go to the gym. If you don’t take it home and wash it, and you go to the gym a few or several days a week, the water bottle could be covered in bacteria,” Combs said.

Your gym bag can also be a haven for bacteria, so regular treatment with a disinfectant spray is a good idea.

Always wear shoes in all areas of the gym, especially in locker rooms and in the shower. If you sit down, place a clean towel on top of the bench or seat.

“Walking barefoot in locker rooms or showers is an easy way to contract MRSA or pick up a fungal infection like athlete’s foot. By wearing clean shoes, you can prevent catching something that is spread by skin contact,” Combs said.

Change your clothes after each workout. “As soon as you leave the gym, you should change clothes as soon as possible. A lot of people continue to wear their sweaty clothes for an hour or hour and a half. It’s important to take those off and shower as soon as you can after a workout,” Combs said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on germs and hygiene.