Wellness: Gym Gripe

December 12 2012, 12:00 PM

To all of the gym rats out there who are in such a big hurry to finish your workout that you jump off your machine while it’s still running: Puh-lease, for the sake of sanitation, good health, preventing the flu, and all things clean, take 30 seconds to wipe down your equipment.

It's baffling how many gym-goers ignore this very simple, very considerate step in their cardio routine—especially when the gym provides multiple bottles of disinfecting spray and paper towel dispensers in every corner. It doesn’t get more convenient than that. And you’d have to be blind to miss the signs that implore you to clean off the machine when you’re done. There is no excuse except laziness and inconsiderateness. 

It’s not rocket science. If you run three miles, or five miles, or even one mile, you are going to sweat and huff and puff all over the machine. And you’re going to smear your sweaty fingers all over the screen and grip the heart-rate sensors with your grimy, damp hands so you can monitor your progress. Translation: Whatever virus or bacteria or not-quite-gone-yet cough you’re carrying around in your system is going to land all over that Stairmaster or bike or elliptical. And it’s probably not going to smell very good if it stays there for days on end. Yet, night after night at the gym, I watch people wipe the sweat off their foreheads, cough into their hands, press the off button, grab a machine handle, and walk away. It’s a germaphobe’s worst nightmare.

Yes, I’m a bit of a germaphobe, so this scenario sticks with me. But my griping isn’t unfounded. Ever heard of MRSA? It’s a “superbug” skin infection that can infiltrate the blood, wreak havoc on your system, and resists antibiotics. And guess what? It can live on gym machines between users. One NIH study found that rhinoviruses (the virus behind the common cold) live on 63 percent of gym machines. Experts say you should wipe down machines twice—before and after your workout—to minimize the risk of contracting a virus or bacterial infection.

Which brings me back to my original point: Be considerate of others at the gym. It only takes a few seconds. We’re reaching New Year’s resolution time, when gyms are going to get crowded for at least a few weeks, and your germs aren’t cleaner than everyone else’s. We’d all appreciate the effort to make sure no one gets a nasty cold or infection. Please and thank you.

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