by: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D.
Germs are everywhere. They are all around us, on every surface we touch, in the air we breathe. They are on us and in us. Get used to it. They are everywhere and they are supposed to be.
Fungi or bacteria thrive in warm, moist places, so it seems gyms are a welcome home to these little devils. Hot tubs, machine handles, pools, shower stalls, and sweaty clothes are only a few of their favorite places. In fact, perspiring humans are often thought of as “germ superhighways.” Perspiration disseminates whatever germs we’ve picked up – even before we’ve entered the gym.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described that E. coli, strep bacteria, the influenza virus and MRSA can be found in gyms and on athletic equipment. MRSA’s antibiotic resistance makes it likely to spread and especially difficult to treat. Athlete’s foot and plantar warts are other little gifts we can take home from the locker room, shower or near swimming pools without proper care.
If we let our minds run away with us, we’re likely to start thinking that germs are colluding against us, ready to pounce and wipe us all out. That’s simply an example of “terribilizing” and “awfulizing” and ignores all that The Sporting Club does and we can do with simple commons sense measures to coexist with these germs.
Between credit cards, cell phones, women’s purses, keypads for computers and door knobs, — forget airplane seats and bathrooms – are actually the top places where we can find germs, if we are looking. Gyms aren’t on the top of the list.
Still, we do need to be attentive. Here are some commons sense locker room tips to avoid fungi and viruses from invading your feet:
* Wear flip-flops in the shower.
* Wash and dry your feet thoroughly.
* Use antifungal powder in your shoes.
* Wear synthetic socks.
* Change your socks often, since sweaty socks are a prime breeding ground for fungi.
* Change out of your gym shoes after exercising and wash them occasionally in the hot water cycle.
Don’t use the towel you dried your feet with to dry the rest of your body. And of course, protect yourself and others by wiping equipment before you use it. The Sporting Club provides plenty of towels and disinfectant spray and hand disinfectant for members to use. Always use a towel to cover the seat of your bench or bike, including the seat in the locker room. Your water bottle needs to be thoroughly cleaned after a trip to the gym, and your protein shake container also needs a careful cleansing. Touching your eyes after handling dumbbells or barbells doesn’t make too much sense does it?
Aside from carrying and using a towel, washing your hands frequently and wearing shower shoes, here’s some more psychological common sense tips to keep your thinking straight.
First, calm down. By working out and taking care of yourself nutritionally and emotionally, you already are helping your immune system deal with the millions of germs you meet in your life.
Second, obsessing about germs will do more harm to you than you realize. In the extreme, you can erroneously reason that since people are spreading germs all over the place, avoiding them makes most sense. No, it doesn’t. And worse, you may start to erroneously believe that it’s a good idea to stay away from the gym altogether. That can only lead to your avoiding exercise, which weakens your immune system.
There is a theory that germs do not cause disease, since the proponents of this theory believe that nature would never surround her children with enemies. Rather, these theorists believe that WE make disease possible based on our poor living habits—including not taking proper care of ourselves.
Third, trust what your mom taught you about cleanliness. Using plain old soap and water, frequent washing and covering your mouth when you sneeze are good moves. If you drop your protein bar on the floor, yuchhhh, don’t pick it up and eat it! Your mom wouldn’t like that.
Finally, realize that our bodies were designed to fight germs. But we have to be exposed to enough germs for that system to work. Jane Smiley said, “A child who is protected from all controversial ideas is as vulnerable as a child who is protected from every germ. The infection, when it comes- and it will come- may overwhelm the system, be it the immune system or the belief system.”
So enjoy working out, use your common sense and know that The Sports Club is doing everything and more to insure the well-being and health of all of its members. We need to do the same for ourselves.