7 Ways to Protect Yourself from Gym Germs

January 11, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Jerry Zuckerman, M.D. contributes to topics such as Infection Control.

New Year’s resolutions typically bring more people into gyms. How can you stay healthy while working out despite the influx of germs?

“There are risks to hitting the gym,” says Jerry Zuckerman, M.D., vice president of Infection Prevention and Control at Hackensack Meridian Health. “Some of the environment is a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria.” That said, you can do a lot to protect yourself while you exercise.

He shares some tips on how to prevent yourself from getting sick at the gym.

  1. Wipe down everything. Whether you have to bring your own wipes, or if your gym provides them, cleaning all equipment you use is a must during cold and flu season—and anytime of year. Zuckerman says any type of antibacterial or disinfecting wipe will do the trick. The key is to be consistent.“Wipe down equipment both before and after use,” Zuckerman says. Doing so after you use the equipment is really to help the person who uses the equipment next; doing so before you use it is more for your protection.

    The only time not to do that is if you are going back and forth between machines, which is common when using circuit training equipment. If no one else uses the equipment during that time, it’s okay not to wipe it down in between each use and only clean it after you are done.

  1. Bring your own mat. It may be tempting to use the gym’s mats during workouts, but they are used often—and are a breeding ground for germs. This is because they have a lot of nooks and crannies that are hard to scrub clean even if other people wipe them down after use. Other than machines, mats are used the most in gyms so they are more likely to have germs. Zuckerman recommends bringing your own mat and placing that, or a towel, under yourself during floor exercises just to be on the safe side.
  1. Look around. Gym equipment is not the only place where viruses and bacteria can spread. Be aware of other people that seem to have a cold. If someone with an illness is involved with you in a contact sport, it may be a good idea to avoid that activity for the day. Not only should you put a bandage on any wounds and cover them up with clothing; pay attention to others who may have apparent rashes or open wounds; without skin to protect us, germs can enter the body directly putting you more prone to infection.A few years ago, there were outbreaks of staph infections linked to contact sports. Wiping things down with a disinfecting wipe can kill staph, and avoiding others with open wounds is a smart idea as well.
  1. Avoid the towels. Again, not having to bring a towel to the gym may seem like a perk, but towels can also carry germs—even after being washed. “Use your own towel; you don’t know how well the gym cleaned theirs,” Zuckerman notes.
  1. Watch the wetness. Taking a shower, or using the steam room or pool at the gym? Most of us know not to go anywhere near a wet floor with bare feet. This can help you avoid germs and fungus. Use your own towel if you sit down on a bench in the locker room, because that surface could be packed with germs as well.
  1. Protect your kids. Dropping your kids off in the child care center while you workout? See what your gym’s policy is on sick kids. A gym that doesn’t allow sick children to enter means your little one is less likely to catch something. The gym should regularly clean all toys and surfaces in the child care room, but you can protect your child by wiping his or her hands before and after being in the room.
  1. Get into clean clothes. Showering and changing right after a sweat-fest is a good idea, but if you cannot do that, at least change your clothing. Don’t exercise and then spend the rest of the day in your gym clothes. Even if you did not work up a sweat, it’s a good idea to change, Zuckerman adds.

If this sounds like you’ll spend more time cleaning gym equipment than working out, try not to worry. Turning a few protective measures into regular habits means that you can exercise while protecting yourself from infections.

“You can control your own safety by doing some of these very simple things,” Zuckerman says. “And doing them consistently.”

If you’ve come down with a cold or infection and you want to feel better now, Hackensack Meridian Health offers several convenient care options, including urgent care and retail locations as well as telemedicine. Learn more, or find a location near you.

The material provided through Health Hub is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.