Maybe you're sick of working out. Or maybe you're sick from working out. A gym (even a clean one) can breed nasty bugs. Cold and flu-causing viruses thrive on drinking fountains, sinks, dumbbells, and equipment handles and keypads. Bacteria on towels and mats can transmit conjunctivitis (pinkeye) and the skin infection impetigo. And showers and steam rooms may encourage the fungi that cause athlete's foot and ringworm. Luckily, there are simple strategies for staying healthy, says Catharine Shaner, MD, a spokesperson for the American Safety and Health Institute.
Wash your hands and face after every workout, she advises, and keep your hands away from your face while you're exercising. "If you have to scratch or rub, use the back of your hand rather than fingers or palm—it will have touched germy places less often," she says. The International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association suggests using weight gloves when you work out and wiping down equipment before and after you use it.
For yoga and other classes that require mats, Shaner suggests placing a towel on top of the mat before you sit or lie on it. (If you bring your own mat, keep it in a carrier and don't use it at home. Otherwise you may be transporting germs from the gym.) Wear flip-flops in the showers. "Your chances of getting sick are minimal if you wash your hands after working out," Shaner says. "Exercise can boost the immune system, so the benefits should far outweigh the fear of germs at the gym."
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