Dodging the gym germs

Cathleen Kronemer

By Cathleen Kronemer

For most of us, going to the gym is about much more than merely building muscles or staying fit. Just about every paper, magazine or Internet article you read about working out focuses on one main topic: improving overall health and well-being. It may come as a surprise, then, that some of our most common gym-related behaviors may in fact be sabotaging our very efforts at staying healthy.

Upon completion of a heavy training session, we tend to strip off our sweaty gym clothes and toss them mindlessly into our gym bags as we head to the showers. According to Kelly A. Reynolds, Ph.D., a microbiologist and Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Arizona, such a warm and damp environment provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. If these clothes do not get washed for a day or so, those little opportunistic bacteria can multiply, placing you at risk for a cold, flu, or even a staph infection. By simply storing these items in a plastic or mesh bag inside your gym bag, and washing them as soon as you arrive home, you can significantly reduce your chances of illness.

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Similarly, a damp and sweaty yoga mat can become more than a place to practice “Downward Dog”; if left in the hot car between classes, it too will play host to a multitude of germs. After each yoga session, wipe your mat with a disinfectant, preferably one which contains tea tree oil. This is a great habit to get into for your sauna and shower flip-flops, too.

While staying well-hydrated during workouts is always a good practice, be wary of water bottles with pull-up spouts. Each time you touch the mouthpiece, you are inadvertently transferring every germ from your hands to the crevices surrounding the mouthpiece….and thus, directly into your mouth. If you do use such bottles, get in the habit of pulling the spout up with your teeth (gently!). When you return home, wash the bottle and its top in the dishwasher at the highest possible temperature, to fully eradicate any traces of bacteria.

As always, one of the best habits to adopt upon leaving the gym is thoroughly washing your hands. Surprisingly, this simple act can ward off a multitude of illnesses, and is quite possibly more effective than antibacterial foams or lotions. Added to the tips mentioned above, you are now armed with a more complete arsenal in the fight to stay healthy as you train to get fit!

Cathleen Kronemer, NSCA-CPT, is a Lifestyle/Weight Management Coach and a longtime fitness instructor at the Jewish Community Center.