It’s a fact: Exercise provides long-term health benefits and can prevent many chronic diseases. But, just as important as the act of exercising is something else you should be doing when you exercise: sanitizing the equipment.
“Since there’s no guarantee that the person who used the yoga mat or weights before you cleaned the equipment, you should sanitize it before you use it and then after too,” said Janet Conner, MT (ASCP), the infection prevention western region director with Banner North Colorado Medical Center in Greely, CO.
Dirty Exercise Equipment: What’s the Risk?
It’s not just the common cold or flu you’re at risk of getting from someone else’s germs left on public exercise gear. There are more serious infections and viruses you can contract, including:
- Staph Infections: Staph bacteria can cause several types of infections including those of the bone, bloodstream, and skin, plus life-threating toxic shock syndrome. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is especially difficult to treat and can survive on athletic equipment for weeks.
- Strep Infection: This well-known throat infection is caused by coming in contact – via sneeze or cough – with small respiratory droplets that contain the bacteria.
- Fungi like Ringworm and Athlete’s Foot: Ringworm is a circular rash that is transferred from one person to another through fabrics like towels, while Athletes Foot is contracted by coming into contact with fungi in damp areas like showers and locker rooms.
- Herpes simplex virus: Herpes can cause painful cold sores around the mouth or infections that can affect your eyes and skin.
- Molluscum contagiosum: This skin infection transfers from person to person via linens like towels and clothes, and causes red, itchy lesions.
“These infections and viruses are spread by direct and indirect contact,” said Conner. “In a community exercise setting, they can be spread by coming into contact with shared equipment and surfaces that aren’t properly disinfected or through sharing personal items.”
When it comes to your yoga mat or home exercise equipment, you should still disinfect after every use, according to Conner. This can prevent the build-up of body oils that may potentially harbor dangerous fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
The Best Ways to Sanitize and Stay Healthy
There are two steps to properly prepare your equipment for safe, healthy use, according to Conner. “First, use a wipe or cloth to physically remove all dirt, oil, sweat, and potentially infectious material, and then disinfect the item by leaving a liquid disinfectant on the surface for the recommend amount of time,” Conner explained. If possible, consult the manufacturer’s instructions for recommended cleaning, as some surfaces – like electronic screens – can be damaged by products containing bleach or alcohol.
Remember to wash your hands before and after exercising. “Hand hygiene is the single most effective method of preventing the spread of infection,” said Conner. Proper handwashing requires wetting your hands, lathering soap and scrubbing, rinsing, and finally, drying with a clean towel.
Most importantly, be a good citizen – don’t go to public gyms if you’re feeling ill. “Infectious diseases like colds, flu, and gastrointestinal illnesses can be easily spread when you are symptomatic,” advised Conner.
Feeling ill? Many Banner Health facilities have doctors who specialize in treating infectious diseases. Visit the Banner Health Physician Directory to find a doctor near you.