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10 Ways to Avoid Germs at the Gym

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Well, duh — this is what we thought when we first saw a new position paper by the National Athletic Trainers' Association that emphasized that people who work out in communal settings — such as a gym — are at risk for skin infections and other infectious diseases.

But, the truth is, with our crazed schedule, we try to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible while getting a decent workout — often forgetting to sweat the details when it comes to avoiding germs that could lead to the common cold or a potentially dangerous infection such as antibiotic-resistant staph (MRSA).

While we're not going to be crazy about it and we're certainly not encouraging anyone to skip the gym entirely, we ARE going to try to clean up our act by following these no-brainer tips from Brian B. Adams, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Cincinnati:

  1. Cover cuts with Band-Aids. This includes small breaks in the skin such as hangnails or dry, cracked skin.
  2. Spray down machines — cardio and strength — even if they don't "look" sweaty. Most gyms have disinfectant available at points throughout the gym. Use it, says Adams. For best results, spray disinfectant directly on equipment, not on towels. And to make sure it kills the germs, let it sit on the surface for a couple of minutes before wiping it down with a clean cloth.
  3. Never let your bare feet hit the floor — that includes showers, locker rooms, and pool decks, especially. "Always keep your sandals on," says Adams. "Make it so routine that when you forget to wear them it feels like you are driving without your seatbelt on."

For seven more ways to protect yourself at the gym, keep reading.

  1. Shower before you leave the gym. Wash feet last (including between your toes!), and dry well as bacteria and fungus thrive in moist, warm environments.
  2. About those flops — let them dry out in the sun before you put them on again. This way bacteria doesn't stand a chance! Best to invest in two cheap pairs, so one is always good to go.
  3. Bring a separate bag for sweaty, dirty gym clothes. Bacteria and fungus love sweat — they feed on it. When they're fat and happy, you're more likely to get sick. Or, at the least, they'll make your gym bag smell like holy heck.
  4. Quiz the help. Before signing up for a gym membership, ask how often they clean equipment and what type of products they use. And insist on seeing their cleaning schedule. If they can't show you one, most likely they're lax about it. Find a different facility.
  5. BYO face towel to wipe your body's sweat. God knows how many hands have touched the towels piled at the front desk or stashed in the corner.
  6. Push hair out of your face with the back of your palm, which is less likely to have touched a contaminated surface.
  7. Bring your own mat. Studies have shown that gym mats are among the dirtiest areas of the gym — even showing traces of fecal matter. Gross, we know. Wash your mat once a week (most are machine washable) to K.O. any nasties it may have picked up at the gym.

We want YOUR advice! What do you do to avoid germs at the gym?

Hungry for more information on working out and eating right? Read these stories at Self.com:

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