Are You Comfortable Sharing Gym Equipment with Others?

It’s safe to assume that when you enter the gym for a workout, you don’t head first of all for the wash room where you can wash your hands before touching any gym equipment; you probably don’t wash your hands afterwards either. And if you do, it wouldn’t be difficult to guess that you don’t use antibacterial soap. Or that you don’t bring your own towel. Who cares, you ask? The National Athletic Trainers Association, is who. A new paper they’ve put out speaks up about the dirty little secret that there is behind the idea of sharing sweaty gym equipment with other people. Skin infections can and often do spread very rapidly in these settings.

It’s easy to dismiss skin infections; most of what we see affecting our skin is usually minor and nothing more than a bit irritating. People like to share their gym infection stories, so it really is a bit strange that people remain complacent. Consider what happened to friend of mine – a friend who by the way, happens to be reasonably cleanliness-conscious. He always wears full-sleeved sweatshirts. In fact, the only parts of his body that remain exposed are usually his fingertips and his head. He happened to notice a small area of rashes near his right wrist one day; he used a little over-the-counter Neosporin, and thought it would go away. The following morning his entire forearm was inflamed and burning; it turned out that he had a resistant version of bacterial infection, and that he would need a week on strong antibiotics to get better. Resistant bacteria are simply something you get on  gym equipment everywhere. He vows to use full gloves from now on. If that’s what happened to a character that’s this careful around other people’s sweat, imagine what could happen if you weren’t careful.

Gym infections can range from the jock itch and ringworm that you get from using shared soap or a towel, to athlete’s foot from standing barefoot on a dirty gym mat, and herpes simplex or impetigo from anywhere. All of these are infectious diseases if you get them, and not only would you put up with the bother of having them, you also have to give up training for a while. And while on the subject, if anyone you know happens to have an infectious skin disease, make sure that they don’t get into a public pool –  the very picture of a communal disease-spreading environment if ever there was one.

The recommended health practices around gym equipment can seem a little extreme, but they do make sense if you look closer. You need to pick a gym that provides liquid antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers everywhere. The clothes you use in the gym are not to touch the clothes you wear back home – they are to be kept separate. You need to wash your feet just as well as you wash other parts of the body. And women, who are often hesitant about using the facilities at the gym, need to set their hesitation aside. Just remember – one in three people in this country suffer from a skin disease that’s contagious. That’s about the same proportion that you can expect at the  gym too.

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