Fitness faux pas risks spread of infection

UK exercisers are putting their health at risk as we head into the ‘cold and flu season’ due to their lack of understanding about good gym hygiene, according to new figures released today by Nuffield Health, the UK’s largest healthcare charity.

The new research on Fitness Etiquette reveals that almost three quarters of UK adults (74 per cent) have personally experienced or witnessed bad fitness etiquette – such as poor hygiene when exercising in the gym or excessive nudity in changing rooms, with almost a quarter (22%) being put off exercising altogether as a result.

A lack of understanding with regards to hygiene was highlighted as a particular issue throughout the research, which was conducted with 2,000 UK adults who use communal exercise facilities. More than a third (35 per cent) admitted to exercising without deodorant or socks on while 16 per cent admitted not washing gym clothes in between workouts. Almost half (49 per cent) have used something in the gym that didn’t belong to them, including towels, water bottles or toiletries, and 18 per cent exercise when suffering from colds, coughing and sneezing.

While sweating is a normal part of exercise, helping the body cool down, when sweat is transferred onto fitness equipment or between exercisers it can lead to the spread of common infections in particular fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. These infections are more easily contracted in areas that may be damp and warm. Nuffield Health fitness and health professionals recommend exercisers take action to reduce the risk of infections spreading, including wiping down equipment after use, not wearing tight clothes that don’t allow sweat to evaporate, washing gym and swimming clothes between every workout, and not sharing items like towels, water bottles and soap.

To help exercisers minimise their risk, and in response to 72 per cent of gym goers calling for gyms to take action to improve behavior, Nuffield Health has worked with health and fitness experts from across its different areas of expertise to compile a free Guide to Fitness Etiquette. As well as helping people negotiate the gym environment, the guide provides information about the health, safety and hygiene issues associated with bad fitness etiquette.  

Commenting on the findings, Sarah Marsh, Professional Head of Fitness and Wellbeing at Nuffield Health, said: “We want to encourage people to think about the health implications of their exercise behaviour. Yes, it’s unpleasant when the person before you hasn’t wiped their sweat off the machine they’ve been using, but the health implications of this and the other hygiene issues our study revealed can be more wide ranging than this. 

“We encounter disease causing germs every day, although generally few of us become ill. We know these germs may easily be spread by unwashed hands  – through direct contact with someone or indirectly through touching contaminated objects  – so as the temperature dips outside, there are many more bugs around and our immune systems are challenged by the ‘flu seasons’ arrival ‘ not wiping down gym equipment can help germs spread. These germs can cause not only vomiting and diarrhoea but also respiratory infections.”

“We’re delighted that the success of this summer’s Olympics has inspired people to get fitter and healthier. But we want them to be able to do in a healthy, safe environment, which is why we’ve compiled this guide in response to gym goers’ feedback. It aims to help build their confidence in what they’re doing when exercising and to help make exercise environments as supportive and enjoyable as possible. We want to encourage everyone in the UK to take control of their own wellbeing by helping tackle the barriers that can prevent people getting fitter and healthier.”

Nuffield Health’s research also shows that exercisers act like stereotypical Brits when they encounter bad etiquette while working out – despite it turning us off exercising, we tend to grin and bear it. Fitness etiquette violations – such as not cleaning fitness equipment after use and treating the facilities like a hotel – annoy 83 per cent, but more than three quarters (76 per cent) lack the confidence to tackle them. One third (33 per cent) said they were too embarrassed to confront offenders or report negative behaviour to a staff member, or that it wasn’t their place, while almost a quarter (23 per cent) took no action because they didn’t think it would make any difference.

The biggest annoyances highlighted were: unnecessary or excessive nudity in the changing rooms (cited by 41 per cent); people hogging machines and swimming lanes (32 per cent); personal space being invaded by other exercisers (27 per cent), and having to move to a different part of the gym or class due to the overwhelming body odour of another exerciser (22 per cent).

Download Nuffield Health’s Guide to Fitness Etiquette here:

Image: iStockphoto

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