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All Health's Breaking Loose: Germs at the gym

January 19, 2011|By Loa Blasucci

Nippy, rainy winter months — these are the months we move our workouts indoors. So there you are at the gym — training hard, working the circuit, sweating — and suddenly you wonder about the germs, bacteria, and ewww, who-knows-what that may be lurking on the surface of the very equipment that is supposed to help keep you healthy. You know, the handles on the treadmill, the grips on the free weights, the seats on the machines — and then you shudder as you realize that you put your hands, feet, back, face and all parts of you on the gym's yoga mats.

Yes, there are germs in the gym. Billions of them. But, there are germs on you, too. In fact, you are a germ-making machine. You're really good at it. Germs live in you, on you and all through you. It's one of the beautiful things about being you — the amazing intelligence of your body that keeps the delicate balance between the good bacteria and bad. It is estimated that between 500 and 1000 species of bacteria live in your gut and about that same amount on your skin's surface.

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The "normal flora," or good bacteria, are beneficial. They help with digestion, create vitamins and protect you by crowding out the bad bacteria. We need them. Their objective is to keep you disease-free. Eating a low-sugar, healthy diet is insurance that the good guys keep control of the battlefield.

The smartest thing a gym-goer can do is to become a hand washer. Wash your hands on arrival, soaping up for 20 seconds or so, about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday," and again before you leave. Hand sanitizers are helpful, but they can destroy the oil on the surface of your skin. The oil from your sweat and sebaceous glands contain fatty acids which inhibit the growth of bacteria. So it's best not to rely on them completely. Soap and water and a round of Happy Birthday should come first.

Like the class I teach here at the Community Center in La Cañada, I teach a mind-and-body workout at Breakthru Fitness in Pasadena. I love the long row of beautiful sinks and soap dispensers in the locker room. Hand sanitizers, sanitizing-wipe dispensers and clean towels are always within reach. Owner Michelle Dozois says, "It's an around-the-clock job; the cleaning crew works nonstop."

This should be the case in every gym. If you're curious about your gym, ask the manager about the cleaning schedule — it will let them know you are concerned. It's a good idea to bring your own mat and two small towels instead of one large one. Use one for wiping the sweat from your face and body, and place the other between you and any seat you sit on, and for wiping down equipment.

Wear sandals while showering and dry your feet thoroughly before leaving the gym. Wash your gym shoes on the hot cycle occasionally and remember that your water bottle needs more than rinsing. Put it in the dishwasher to sterilize it.

If you are sick, stay at home. Your body will need less cardio and more stretching and gentle floor exercise; and it's certainly not worth the risk of exposing others.

Enjoy your workout. With a little bit of care, you'll come away with a healthier, better you.

I'll see you in two weeks.

Love & health,

Loa

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