Gym Germs on the Rise

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People have all kinds of reasons for going to the gym, be it toning for beach season, training for an event, or simply just trying to stay active. No matter the reason, the underlying motivation is the general desire for health and wellness, and if it’s about getting healthy, a gym seems like a good place to be.

It turns out gym-goers should be wary of what their workout might be sending them home with: scores upon scores of bacteria. Fitness equipment review website FitRated published a study detailing the amount of bacteria they swabbed from 27 pieces of exercise equipment across three different gyms.

The findings were somewhat startling—treadmills, exercise bikes, and free weights all clocked in with more than a million germs per square inch. Bacteria such as gram-positive cocci, a common cause of skin infections, and sometimes antibiotic-resistant, gram-negative rods were all over the equipment, and the two made up more than 70 percent of the germs swabbed.

On the surface, it may come as no surprise that a collective space where people exert their bodies and drip sweat is full of germs. After all, we’ve all grabbed a subway handle, entered public buildings and perhaps even used the office toilet (regrettably, of course). We’re exposed to all kinds of germs, all over the place, every single day.

However, FitRated’s findings become a bit more shocking when put into that context. For example, a free weight with more than 1.3 million colony-forming units of bacteria per square inch contains 362 times more bacteria than an average toilet seat—you know, that thing we sit our naked butts on.

“Hopefully this will make people more aware that every time you lift a dumbbell, it’s like shaking hands with 20 incredibly sweaty people,” Chelsea Freeburn, a member of the FitRated creative team, tells BTRtoday

All gyms provide sanitary equipment, including antibacterial wipes and spray, but there isn’t much more facilities can do to prevent the spread of these germs. The onus is on each person using the equipment to wipe it down properly afterward and prevent the possible spread of illness or infection.

“It became apparent that people aren’t utilizing what the gyms are providing to keep people healthy,” Freeburn says. “You can’t really trust other people to wipe it down, so this is to make people realize that maybe they should be doing that.”

FitRated’s findings fall in line with a wide number of websites and publications that have bemoaned the risks that gyms pose, from MRSA staph infections to the common cold and flu.

With all the information on gym germs already out there, examinations like FitRated’s simply bring the issue into a more digestible and relatable light, despite the troubling information it reveals. Freeburn explains that the study wasn’t necessarily meant to scare people, but to make them more aware of their habits at the gym, and keep what they get out of their workout experiences positive.

“People who work out put a lot of emphasis on fitness and health, and while you may be doing the right things for yourself, you’re not necessarily thinking of the hidden dangers that might be lurking,” Freeburn says. “You’re trying to be healthy, and you don’t want to let all of your work go to waste.”