You go to the gym to get healthier — but any place crowded with sweaty bodies is bound to contain some germs. Other than swiping left on facilities that smell like month-old corn chips, what can you do to protect yourself?
Quite a bit. By practicing proper gym hygiene, you can avoid getting the cold or flu in many cases. You can also protect your fellow weightlifters and treadmill riders. Follow these tips to keep tidy while you sweat it up.
1. Wipe Down EquipmentIf you want the freshest gym experience, try getting there first thing in the morning after the night cleaning crew finishes. But if you're not into crack-of-dawn workouts, wipe down your equipment — before and after use.
Why? You can't police the behavior of people around you, but you can protect yourself if they consider hygiene optional. Make sure to leave adequate time for the disinfectant solution to dry before hopping on that elliptical. Climbing aboard when it's still wet doesn't allow the substance to kill all germs.
2. Cover up Any WoundsMethicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is resistant to most antibiotics — and is tough to treat. This condition can create sores and boils on your skin. Yuck! Prevent infection before it spreads by covering any cuts or scrapes with bandages.
If you have cuts in hard-to-treat areas like your fingertips, use a liquid bandage to create a barrier between the wound and the outside air. Don't share towels, even with friends or family members. The bacteria can live on surfaces for a significant time. If nothing else, the fear of getting a breakout from sharing germs should give you pause.
3. Disinfect Your BagYou pull off your sweaty clothes and leave them to stink up your bag. Guess what? The same bacteria that make dirty clothes smell ripe can make you ill.
Carry a container of deodorant spray to combat odors and germs in your carry-all. If you suffer from allergies or migraines, opt for an unscented version — otherwise, artificial fragrances can trigger symptoms.
4. Use Hand Sanitizer ProperlyMany health clubs provide hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the facility — but these only protect you if you use the product correctly. If you squirt a dab into your palms and immediately grab dumbbells while your hands are still damp, you're not getting the maximum benefit. Rub the sanitizer between your hands thoroughly until the product evaporates completely, taking the bugs with it.
Wash your hands after using the restroom and before leaving the facility. Sing "Happy Birthday" twice in your head to ensure you're washing them long enough to kill any germs.
5. Wear Flip-Flops in the ShowerIf you shower barefoot in a public facility, you risk getting plantar warts or worse, if you have a cut. Moist, warm bathroom tiles are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and viruses. Pack a pair of flip-flops in your bag and wear them in the locker room and pool areas. That way, you don't mar your perfect pedicure with a foot infection.
6. Cough into Your SleeveWhen you cough or sneeze, you blow airborne pathogens all around. If you cover your mouth with your hand when you cough, you transfer those germs to everything you touch afterward. Instead, turn your head and do your business into your shoulder sleeve. You don't always have a tissue handy — but you do have those delts!
7. Clean off Your Phone
If you put your phone down on weight benches when you lift, the screen picks up germs from these surfaces. Then, when you text or swipe, you spread those nasties everywhere — including your face. At best, the bacteria cause a mean crop of chin zits. At worst, they can lay you low with the flu.
Use a wipe to clean your phone before leaving the building. Make it standard practice to clean it off several times throughout the day — such as after propping it up to view your list in your grocery cart.