Gymnasiums almost universally are considered to be excellent places to improve our health. But working out at public fitness centers can pose a danger many of us fail to bear in mind. The shared equipment and surfaces found in public gyms and fitness centers can act as breeding grounds for the kinds of bacteria that cause skin infections, warns Kent Aftergut, M.D., of the American Society of Dermatological Surgery.
“Physical activity is only one part of the healthy lifestyle puzzle. Cleaning gym equipment is an easy step in preventing dangerous bacterial infections and should be added to any workout routine,” said Aftergut. He ticked off the most common skin infections found in fitness centers:
Staph infection. Skin lesions such as boils or open, non-healing sores are sure signs of a staph infection. These can be easily transferred from shared gym equipment to the skin, nose and throat. If left untreated, staph infections can invade the bloodstream, lungs, urinary tract and heart.
Athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot, the second most common skin disease in the United States after acne, is spread by walking barefoot on locker room and shower floors. Symptoms include red, scaly, tender rashes in between toes. If left untreated the infection can spread to other parts of the foot and body.
Ringworm. Shared yoga mats, unsanitary equipment and dirty towels are all sources of ringworm. The symptoms include round, red, scaly rings on the surface of the skin. It can also infect the scalp, feet and nails. If left untreated, ringworm can permanently scar infected areas.
Nail infection. Wearing poorly fitted shoes to exercise in can lead to raised calluses and irritated, red toenail beds. Left untreated, infection can spread and cause toenail loss.
What to Do
Aftergut and the American Society of Dermatological Surgery provide the following suggestions to prevent skin and nail problems while exercising at public gyms and fitness centers:
Sanitize. Wipe all equipment with sanitizer spray and paper towels, or antibacterial wipes, to remove dangerous bacteria.
Bring your own mat. Avoid shared yoga mats that can absorb and trap sweat and support infection-causing bacteria.
Wear well-fitted shoes. Tight and unsupportive gym shoes can cause toenails to become painful, inflamed and infected.
Wear shower shoes. Always use protective footwear before heading into locker rooms and showers to stop the spread of athlete’s foot.
Take care with towels. To avoid the risk of spreading dangerous bacteria to your body, never use a towel more than once and never share one.
Observe your skin. Monitor your skin to see how it reacts after you work out at a public gym or fitness center. If you experience persistent skin irritation or infection, visit a board-certified dermatologist.