Frequented by amateur and professional athletes, K-12 students, and the 45 million Americans with gym memberships, gyms and locker rooms are the facilities we use to get in shape and stay healthy. Ironically, these are some of the dirtiest and most infected spaces we visit. Influenza and Streptococcal Bacteria (flu and strep throat) are two of the most prominent germs present in many gyms and locker rooms. Other dangerous bacteria that can remain on hard and soft surfaces include Escherichia Coli (E. Coli), Staphylococcus aureus (Staph Infection), and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
When surfaces are not cleaned thoroughly or regularly, there is a much higher chance of these pathogens sticking around longer. Further, variables such as temperature and humidity also play a huge role in the length of time bacteria can survive – a higher temperature/humidity provides optimal conditions for sustained bacterial growth. Pathogens, bacteria, viruses, etc. can survive on surfaces for hours and days, sometimes even months if left untouched!
How to stay healthy in your local gym
Most everyone who has been to a gym has seen the signs: “Spray and wipe down machines after use”. If you are one of the few who religiously scrub their treadmill after use, bravo! But what about the person before you; can you blindly trust that others are actually following this procedure? This applies to free weights as well … unfortunately, most people using free weights do not clean them off, they just clean the bench they were using (if at all). The best way to prevent suffering from the disgusting habits of other gym goers is to wipe down the machine/station/equipment before and after use and wash your hands after your workout – don’t leave anything to chance. Further, it’s a great idea to bring a towel so that you are not wiping off your face with your hands – no matter how “clean” the equipment is before or after you use it, your hands are magnets for germs and bacteria.
Once you have escaped the gym, you are not out of the woods yet – you still face the dangers of the locker room. While many forgo the use of the locker room/shower and wait until they get home, those who use the locker rooms need to be careful in this space as well. Faucets, lockers, benches – these may appear to be clean, but all of these can harbor dangerous pathogens unseen to the naked eye. This same problem is becoming a growing concern in our schools as well.
How clean are your children’s school locker rooms?
Most K-12 Students have a one hour gym class every school day, and thus, have a locker where they change and often keep their clothes. Larger schools in NJ can have more than 3,000 students in the locker rooms each day – 3,000 pairs of sweaty clothes, 3,000 sets of hands on the doors. Along with the cafeteria and bathrooms, locker rooms have the highest traffic and the most amount of lingering pathogens.
Further, student-athletes are usually provided with a locker for the season in a team locker room – as soon as they arrive, their locker becomes an incubation chamber for the next 3 months. For security and personal reasons, janitors are not coming in to clean the lockers or any of the student’s gear. As any parent knows, kids are messy and they aren’t cleaning their own gear either – many parents are lucky to see more than one pair of dirty clothes come home a week. So with all these clothes and gear sitting around untouched, any bacteria present will remain and potentially grow further. Most pathogens are microscopic and colorless, often odorless as well – most teenagers do not realize that their dirty clothes are more than filthy.
Whether it’s a school athletic facility or your local Retro Fitness, always take any reasonable precautions to stay clean. While custodial staffs do their best to clean as much as possible, germs can still thrive on untreated areas – spray and wipe down gym equipment before and after use, wash your hands frequently, clean your clothes and equipment. . These are some of the recommended safety measures that may take a few extra minutes or may be a slight inconvenience, but may save you a week home sick or worse!