With 1 in every 7 people in the UK owning a gym membership, fitness centres have become a germ hotspot. Although you are probably going to the gym to lose weight, get fit and gain muscle, you may be leaving your fitness centre with a little more than a dream body. The germs for skin infections, diarrhoea and the flu have all been found on gym equipment. Dumbbells alone have 362 times more bacteria than your toilet seat! So just how clean is your gym?
What germs can be found at the gym and what do they do?
A study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found the presence of bacteria, including Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Klebsiella, and Micrococcus. Although you may not be familiar with the names of some of these pathogens, their symptoms are certainly recognisable.
Photo credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
Often associated with food poisoning, Salmonella is also responsible for typhoid fever. What’s more, you could be bringing these nasty germs home with you after a gym session, as salmonella is most commonly found latching on to gym bags that have been left on benches or even in lockers. Remember to practice good gym-bag hygiene and always unpack it soon after a session; it wouldn’t hurt to give it a wash every now and then too…!
More commonly shortened simply to staph, these pesky pathogens can cause some nasty skin infections. In rarer cases, staph can lead to more serious infections of the blood, lungs and heart. Our bodies are not strangers to staph bacteria, as one in three of us carry it harmlessly on our bodies every day. Make sure when you attend the gym that any breaks to the skin (so cuts, burns or even insect bites) are appropriately covered to avoid staph bacteria entering the wound. The beloved elliptical machine is one of the worst culprits for carrying staph.
Klebsiella manifests itself as a variety of infections depending on where it enters the body. Some of the most common include urinary tract infections or even pneumonia. Most commonly found on shared surfaces in the gym, make sure you wipe down the gym equipment both before AND after use!
Found in a wide-range of environments, micrococcus bacteria like to feast on the sweat found on your gym clothes. An odiferous germ, micrococcus is responsible for a range of infections, much like staph. Try to avoid wearing polyester and instead opt for cotton-based gym gear.
What are the worst culprits for gym germs?
With our hands meeting millions of microbes every day, it is not hard to see how easily these can be transferred on to free weights. Pair that with the fact that dumbbells are among the gym equipment the least likely to be wiped down after use and you have a surface that is perfect for pathogens. Among other free equipment, a clinical professor of microbiology and pathology has stated that he "even found MRSA on an exercise ball".
Photo credit: NIKITA TV/Shutterstock
How’s this for putting you off a dip: the average swimmer contributes at least 0.14 grams of fecal material to the water, typically within the first 15 minutes of entering! It is no wonder that hundreds of thousands of UK citizens experience outer ear infections each year, due to contaminated water remaining in the ear after a swim. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend Showering with soap before swimming to stop the spread of germs.
Photo credit: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock
According to the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 63 percent of machines that had been disinfected still had traces of rhinovirus, responsible for the common cold. What’s more, the treadmill you’re running on averages 74 times more bacteria than a public bathroom tap.
Photo credit: Foryoui3/Shutterstock
Good Gym Hygiene:
• Bring your own water bottle, and never let it touch the water fountain tap.
• Wash your hands after a workout (and take a shower as soon as you can, preferably at home)
• Wash your gym clothes after every session and wipe down your gym bag
• Do not go to your gym if you’re feeling unwell
• Take your own towel to create a barrier between yourself and the gym equipment. Be sure to wash this after each use, though!