How to Avoid Infections at the Gym

gym, workoutHigh school, college, and pro athletes in sports including wrestling and baseball have come down with staph infections in recent years, in some cases MRSA, the potentially deadly strain that is immune to antibiotics. It's not always clear where these and other infections originate, but athletes are at risk because they tend to get nicks and cuts, and also to share equipment and towels.

However, you can take some common-sense steps to protect yourself at the gym:

• Make sure the equipment is clean. Gyms are supposed to regularly clean off the equipment, but you should take your own precautions.

• Sharing is not always best. Don't use someone else's towel. In some cases, you may also get more peace of mind by purchasing your own basic equipment, like yoga mats.

• Shower right after you exercise. Don't wait around in your sweaty clothes if you've been using common equipment or participating in a contact sport. Don't use a communal bar of soap, either.

• Wear flip-flops or shower shoes when showering. While staph gets the headlines, athlete's foot is still a pain. Protect yourself by keeping your feet off the communal shower floor.

• Think twice about the sauna or the whirlpool if you have a cut, scrape, or bad bruise. A couple of microbes thrive in hot water. If you do use a hot tub, shower afterwards.

• Don't ignore symptoms. Whether or not you've worked out lately, pay attention to a scratch, bruise, or cut that becomes red, hot, or tender.
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
It’s a given that there are infectious agents like bacteria, viruses and even antibiotic-resistant MRSA at your local gym. It’s a public place, and one that houses not only sweaty people but also hot tubs, saunas, showers and other moist, bacteria havens.

So if you’ve been thinking that the weight sets and elliptical machines at your gym are somehow sterile and devoid of any organic matter, think again. They are certainly loaded with germs. Yet, this shouldn’t make you think twice about getting in your workout, not even for one second.

To avoid going to the gym for fear of germs would mean you’d also need to avoid the grocery store, hotel rooms, restaurants, and, while you’re at it, even your own home. You simply can’t escape bacteria and viruses. They’re everywhere, and that’s not necessarily as scary as it sounds.

A swab of your own forearm may reveal 182 species of bacteria (8 percent of which were unknown), according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Many of these bacteria are good and essential for your very survival.

And about 30 percent of people carry MRSA on their skin without any noticeable side effects whatsoever. Of course, some bacteria are bad and capable of making you sick. This is where using some commonsense approaches comes in.

A Sensible Approach to Germs

If the idea of lying on a public yoga mat gives you the creeps, by all means bring your own. Likewise, it makes sense to wear sandals in a public shower or bathroom to avoid picking up a fungal infection, or even throwing down a clean towel on a weight bench before you lie down.

Simple preventive measures such as these make fine sense.

What does not make sense, and what could actually end up causing you far more harm than good, is to go on a disinfecting rampage of every surface you come in contact with, or, even worse, using disinfecting, antibacterial agents on your own skin.

The Risks of Being Overly Germ-Phobic

When disinfectants are used in low levels, researchers found that they actually make certain bacteria stronger and resistant to antibiotic treatment. This is true even in hospital settings, and certainly applies to the low-level disinfectants many use around their homes.

While building up antibiotic-resistance and thereby contributing to the creation of superbugs, chemical disinfectants disrupt the balance of bacteria, both good and bad, in your home, making it much easier for the bad bacteria to flourish.

Meanwhile, the chemicals themselves are toxic in their own right, containing harmful chemicals like phenols, formaldehyde, petroleum solvents, triclosan and butyl cellosolve.

So, ironically, disinfecting your home may actually make you sick. This is especially true for children who grow up in overly sterile environments, and therefore are not able to build up their natural resistance to disease.

Simple Steps to Staying Healthy in a Germy World

Anytime you go out in public, you risk being exposed to germs. Actually, you risk being exposed in your own home too, anytime you have visitors. Please, let’s all put down the rubber gloves, antibacterial soaps, wipes and disinfectant sprays and instead get real about how to stay healthy. Here are the common sense tips I recommend:

1. Wash your hands when necessary.

It has been shown time and time again that washing your hands with soap and water can kill viruses that cause the common cold, hepatitis A, gastroenteritis and more. Simple soap and water has actually been shown to work better than waterless, alcohol-based hand wipes and rubs.

One important point -- don’t go overboard with washing your hands especially in the winter. 

Your skin is actually your primary defense against bacteria -- NOT the soap. It is rare when a germ on your skin will cause a problem -- it is typically only an issue when you transfer that to your nose, mouth or an open wound like cracked skin.

So please avoid anything but absolutely crucial hand washing, as that can dry out your skin, leading to cracks that will actually increase your risk of getting sick by providing an entryway for potentially dangerous pathogens.

2. Take the steps necessary to build up your immune system.

A strong immune system is the best defense against any pathogenic bacteria you come across, and will serve you well if you nourish it with the proper tools.

You can support your immune system by:

These two techniques are really your best defense against germs, and they will keep you healthy in ways that disinfectants never will. So, by all means, go to the gym, use the equipment and don’t worry … germs at the gym are no match for a healthy lifestyle.