Being able to hit the gym during the winter months can be a life saver. Exercise is a known mood booster, something so many of us need to combat the winter blues. Unfortunately, the gym is also a breeding ground for germs. On free weights alone, there are an estimated 362 times more germs present than on your average toilet seat according to a study conducted by FitRated.
This is especially alarming considering how rampant influenza has been this year. A heartbreaking 84 pediatric deaths have been reported nationwide since the start of flu season and over 20,000 positive cases of the illness have been reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by hospitals around the country.
During a flu outbreak, it is more important than ever to be mindful of your exposure to germs. So what’s a gal to do? Skip the gym altogether? Not so fast!
It goes without saying that a trip to the gym is beneficial to your overall health, but it’s about so much more than gains. Moderate exercise actually helps the immune system fight off the flu according to Harvard Health Publishing, so a trip to the gym is something your immune system could really use to your advantage. That doesn’t mean you should throw caution to the wind, however, so exert the extra effort to protect yourself from germs the next time you work out.
The flu is spread when we come in contact with the viruses that cause influenza, getting the germs on our hands, and then touch our hands to our mouths, noses, or eyes. This means that one of the most effective steps we can take to prevent the spread of illness is keeping these germs away from our faces.
Of course, no matter how hard you’re working to keep your hands away from your face, you still need to practice diligent hand washing. Make a point of washing your hands when you arrive at the gym and before you leave. This habit will help protect you and your fellow gym goers from the spread of the flu.
Take it easy.
It’s beneficial to the immune system to engage in moderate exercise, but there is a limit to its perks. People who engage in overly strenuous workouts actually experience a drop in the function of their immune systems according to one study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.
As hard as this might be to hear, it’s a good idea to take it easy when you hit the gym during flu season. Don’t exhaust yourself. If you want to push yourself hard, consider an at-home workout instead.
Keep it clean.
Most gyms take extra precautions to keep germs under control by providing paper towels and cleaning solution for gym goers to use on equipment and free weights. When you head in for a workout, we suggest going the extra mile. Don’t just clean up the equipment after you’re through with your workout: Assume the person before you didn’t clean up after themselves and do a wipe-down before picking up the weights. And, if you’re planning on attending a yoga class during your visit, play it safe and bring your own mat considering your hands—and maybe even your face—will make contact with it during your yoga flow.
Of course, some gyms are simply cleaner than others. Before you make visits to the gym part of your routine, check out their cleaning practices. The big things you want to look for are the presence of a cleaning crew, at least twice a day, and a well-ventilated workout space. If you don’t see equipment-cleaning supplies in the gym, ask if you’re missing them or high-tail it out of there to find a healthier, more sanitary place to work out.