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Sorry, But Your Gym is Crawling with Germs & Bacteria

Brace yourself for the shocking dirty details, according to a doctor.

Carving out time to work out is a phenomenal, healthy gift to give yourself. According to the Mayo Clinic, the benefits of engaging in regular physical activity include keeping a handle on your weight, lowering your risk of contracting a medical condition, improving your mood, enhancing your sleep, and providing you with some fun social time. The one thing you may not count on is how many germs you're exposing yourself to while exercising at your fitness haven of choice. We spoke with a doctor and are here to share the dirty scoop so you're aware of everything you're getting when your goal is wellness. Keep reading to find out how many germs are at the gym.

Germs—including viruses, bacteria, and fungi—are lurking literally everywhere.

Eat This Not That! chatted with Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM, the Director of Medical Content & Education at Ro and a member of our Medical Expert Board, who points out, "One thing that happened during COVID is that people became acutely aware of how to try to avoid being sick. We started wearing face masks, we practiced social distancing, we used more hand sanitizer, we wiped things down after we bought them at the store, and we took other measures to try to minimize the amount of germs we were regularly exposed to. But the truth is, germs—including bacteria, viruses, and fungi—are everywhere, and there's no way to completely avoid them."

A study revealed gym equipment like free weights, exercise bikes, and treadmills had more than 1 million colony-forming units of bacteria in every square inch.

A study performed by FitRated reviewed the amount of bacteria found on equipment at most gyms. Researchers measured "colony-forming units," which is the number of bacteria able to multiply. They observed equipment like free weights, exercise bikes, and treadmills had more than 1 million colony-forming units in every square inch. Pretty disturbing to hear, but Dr. Bohl points out, "It's important to put this number in perspective. Bacteria naturally live in and on the human body (this is typically referred to as the human microbiome), and current estimates are that there are approximately 1.5 trillion bacteria living on the skin."

Dr. Bohl explains the study classified 70% of the bacteria they discovered to be "potentially harmful." An individual may or may not get sick from exposure, and it's mostly determined if the germs penetrate your body. "One of the skin's jobs is to act as a barrier and keep germs out, so just because you touch germs with your hands doesn't necessarily mean they will make you sick. Instead, germs typically need to enter the body somehow, through open wounds or sores, the eyes, or mucous membranes like the inside of the mouth and nose," Dr. Bohl adds.

Germs mostly appear on highly touched items and in moist areas.

Right about now, you're probably looking around wondering exactly where the germs at the gym are hiding. Well, they're pretty much everyplace, but mostly appear on "high-touch items" and areas that are moist. This includes all equipment—selectorized machines, weights, mats, and cardio equipment. If you're thinking of heading to the shower, note that germs are running amok in the locker room, steam room, and connected areas.

According to Dr. Bohl, "Germs can also be found in bodies of water, like hot tubs, and they exist in the air, with gym goers typically breathing harder and faster than they do at rest and expelling particles with more force as a result."

RELATED: COVID Can Live on These 5 Grocery Items for Days, Says New Report

Here's how you can stay healthy at the gym.

woman applying hand sanitizer at the gym

Now that we've made your entire workout much more relaxing (You're welcome!) we're here to let every fitness enthusiast know how you can stay as healthy as possible when you're there. The best way is to be sure you and the equipment you're using are completely clean. That means wiping down your equipment before and after using it with a disinfectant. Most gyms supply paper towels, disinfectant wipes, and spray sanitizers in various convenient locations.

Be sure to wash and sanitize your hands frequently. Of course, it's difficult to wash up between each workout, so use sanitizer and definitely do not touch your face.

Dr. Bohl points out, "Germs that end up on your hands might not be able to get through the skin, but if you frequently touch your face, you might introduce the germs to places where they can get into the body, like through the eyes, nose, or mouth." He suggests, "If your gym allows, you can consider bringing some of your own equipment from home to use, such as your own mat—that way, you avoid using a mat that many other people have touched that day. You should also bring shoes that you can wear in the locker room—preferably shoes like flip-flops that can get wet in the shower—so you can avoid walking around barefoot and picking up fungi. Lastly, after using the gym, take a shower and change and wash your clothes."

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa
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