Ask Healthy Living: Do You Really Need To Clean Off Gym Equipment?

Do You Really Need To Wipe Down The Machines At The Gym?

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Do I really need to wipe down the machines at the gym?

When it comes to good gym etiquette, our Facebook fans and Twitter followers told us wiping sweat off of shared equipment and machines is basically their Golden Rule.

But even though it's gross to lie down into a puddle of someone else's perspiration on the bench press, there's not actually anything inherently germy about sweat. So what's the deal?

Turns out, our health-minded community is on to something. Warm, moist environments are where bacteria really like to grow, says Dr. Pritish Tosh, M.D., infectious diseases physician at the Mayo Clinic. And if the gym isn't a warm, moist environment, we don't know what is. "There is certainly a potential for transmission of certain kinds of infections," he says.

One biggie is community-acquired MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), Tosh says, an infection "caused by a strain of staph bacteria that's become resistant to the antiobiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections," according to the Mayo Clinic's website. MRSA outbreaks have been documented among athletic teams that share equipment, especially wrestling teams, he says.

Porous materials -- like machine padding and yoga mats -- are probably more problematic than something like dumbbells, since bacteria will thrive on those soft, squishy materials when they get damp and warm. "With things like athletic pads worn by hockey players, you can see people who are unable to get rid of their own skin infections," says Tosh. "They keep getting reinfected, because it lingers in the pads, so it's important to keep those things as clean as possible."

Other germs that may linger on shared equipment could cause urinary tract infections, E. coli, fungus growth (athlete's foot, anyone?) and warts, including those caused by human papillomavirus, Men's Fitness reported.

And let's not forget about cold and flu viruses. If you know you're sick with the flu, as a common courtesy to your fellow gym rats, maybe skip a couple of your public sweat sessions, says Tosh. "It's best to avoid those situations in a public area in close proximity to others so you don't spread your illness." And if you do feel a cough or sneeze coming on at the gym, do us all a favor and unleash that spray into the crook of your elbow rather than all over the treadmill.

Bottom line: Even though your risk is relatively low of actually catching a really nasty bug at the gym, says Tosh, wiping up is more than just polite.

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