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Why Going To The Gym Can Be Unhealthy For You

By Farah Lindstrom
Posted on 01 Oct, 2015

When it comes to public spaces, the chances of germs being present is inevitable— and the gym is no exception. Some of the bugs can thrive for days in the humid gym environment, and are killed only when the area is thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. Disturbingly, researchers have found that disinfecting equipment didn't kill off all germs. And machines used by several people in quick succession, like cardio machines and free weights, may be the hardest to get squeaky clean.

In a recent survey for Men's Fitness magazine, a clinical scientist in microbiology at University College Hospital in London admited he was shocked when swabs taken from one unnamed London gym revealed dangerously high levels of bacteria. One site harboured 132 million bugs in an area the size of a 2p coin, while the average count was 16 million. Compare those levels with the 500 bacteria you could expect to find in a similar sample taken from a loo seat, and you can see why experts are increasingly concerned.



Gym Equipment
In the Men's Fitness survey, germs were found in every nook and cranny of the gym. On the bench-press headrest and dumbells, for instance, almost 8 million traces of staphylococcus epidermis, a type of bacteria which causes skin infections, were found.

Boxercise gloves, used for gym boxing classes, contained another species of bacteria linked to similar infections. Sweaty residue on gym equipment - particularly the machines often used by several people in quick succession, such as weights and exercise bikes - can also harbour streptococcal infections and even candida, a germ linked to problems in the intestines and bowel.

Catching the Herpes virus is also a risk if the sweat of an infected person gets on to gym mats or other surfaces. 'The actual sweat is really not a problem,' says Herbert DuPont, professor of medical sciences at the University of Texas, who has studied gym hygiene. 'It is primarily the moisture from sweat that causes problems by helping germs to grow.'


Changing Rooms And Showers
Earlier this year it was reported by the Health Protection Agency that about 100 men and woman had contracted a strain of the MRSA superbug at their gym or sports centre.

Community-acquired MRSA (known as CA-MRSA) can trigger pneumonia and lead to skin infections which cause boils and abscesses.

Less harmful are other common diseases lurking on the floor of these areas such as tinea pedis (athlete's foot), and onychomycosis, another infectious fungal disease with symptoms including yellow, brittle toe-and fingernails. Both of these can be treated with over-the-counter medications, but for persistent infections you may need to consult your GP.


Hot Tub
Poorly-maintained hot-tubs can be a breeding ground for dangerous bacteria, according to research by a team from Texas A&M University. They tested 43 water samples from private and public whirlpool baths, only to find all had some kind of microbial growth.

While a teaspoon of tap water contains about 138 bacteria, a teaspoon of whirlpool tub water had an average of 2.17million bugs. Bacteria derived from faeces were present in 95 per cent of samples, while 34 per cent contained potentially deadly staphylococcus bacteria.

And the warm temperature makes matters worse: the chlorine in the tubs loses much of its disinfecting power, while the bugs thrive.

According to the Health Protection Agency, spas were the cause of 27 cases of legionnaires' disease and three deaths in 2003.


Swimming Pool
Outbreaks of a nasty gut bug, cryptosporidium, are sometimes linked to swimming pools. Infection is caused by swallowing contaminated water.

Ironically, health problems can also be caused by the chemicals, such as chlorine, which are added to pools to kill potentially harmful bacteria. Some researchers have linked the presence of pool chemicals to the rising incidence of asthma. It is thought that chlorine reacts with sweat or urine to create dangerous fumes which can harm the lungs.


Sauna And Steam Room
In the survey conducted by Men's Fitness, the sauna was found to contain high levels of citrobacter freundii bacteria, an agent of infections including pneumonia, and blood and urinary tract infections. The bacteria usually lives in the gut and its presence indicates faecal contamination.

The high count of this bacteria in saunas could stem from the wooden benches in saunas and steam rooms which have lots of crevices, providing ideal gaps for bacteria to colonise. Citrobacter is often found with other intestine-dwelling bacteria, such as E. coli.



Does this mean you should just quit hitting the gym altogether? Definitely not, as Inactivity is more likely to threaten your health. What we hope this article does is make you aware of the potential dangers in your gym environment so you take the necessary steps to protect yourself.

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