Gym Equipment Harbors Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, New Research Shows

Woman cleaning gym

Key Takeaways

  • Research has found that shared exercise equipment can be teeming with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Skin abrasions like scrapes or even micro tears could put you at higher risk.
  • Frequent disinfection can knock out this bacteria and should be done now more than ever.

When it comes to shared gym equipment, sweat isn't the only thing that needs to be wiped away after a workout. Research presented at ACM Microbe Online found high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on equipment in communal spaces, according to a recent press release from the American Society for Microbiology. The results of the study emphasize a need for more comprehensive deep cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

The findings also raise concerns over the potential transmission of COVD-19, though more research is still needed. "At this point, we are obviously still learning about this virus and how it spreads, but we do know the main transmission is person-to-person," says Debra Goff, PharmD, a founding member of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Keeping Surfaces Clean

Researchers tested different surfaces from two university recreational facilities, including dumbbells and barbells handles, kettlebells, elliptical and treadmill handles, and cable pull grips.

They found many were teeming with bacteria, and 43% of that bacteria was resistant to ampicillin, a common antibiotic. About 73% of the bacteria were resistant to multiple types of antibiotics.

They noted that transmission could be more likely if gym-goers had some type of skin abrasion when using the shared equipment, such as a scrape or micro tear, which could allow the bacteria to enter the body more easily.

In addition to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, another major concern that was addressed (but not covered) by the study is, of course, potential transmission of COVID-19.

Debra Goff, PharmD

Data about how the virus stays on surfaces should make us pay attention. If nothing else, that should remind us to keep washing our hands. But making sure surfaces are cleaner can be helpful as well.

— Debra Goff, PharmD

Staying Safe at the Gym

Unless you're the manager of a gym, it's not possible to oversee the cleaning protocol at a specific fitness facility. But you can take steps to feel safer when you do use the gym, according to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based personal trainer Ramsey Bergeron, CPT.

  • Bring a face mask and wear it to check-in, and anywhere that social distancing may be difficult to maintain.
  • Bring your own towel and mat, if possible. It's likely your gym will no longer offer these, since they require more cleaning between uses.
  • Put your phone away, preferably in your car. Studies have noted that cell phones can be potential reservoirs for bacteria, and one commentary in the American Journal of Nursing notes that microbiologists call them "petri dishes of bacteria because they generate heat and dwell in the darkness of our pockets."
  • Check the gym's social media. Looking at Instagram and Facebook pages can give an indication of how seriously a gym is taking social distancing, cleaning, and other priorities.
  • Minimize shared equipment use. One of the biggest reasons for returning to a gym is for the equipment, but as the recent ASM research found, it can pose a risk. Use as little equipment as possible per session, and be sure to clean it before and after use.

Also, wear comfortable clothing, Bergeron advises. That's usually the case, but he says if you're not quite fitting into your pre-pandemic workout clothes, you may be more likely to adjust and touch your clothes more often than usual, which can spread more germs.

Go Virtual or Outside

If the thought of sharing equipment at the gym still causes hesitation, there are plenty of other ways to get a workout. For example, at the start of the pandemic, many fitness facilities started offering online options, and still do. You can minimize gym usage by doing at least one or two of your weekly workouts online instead of in person.

Another option is to find gyms that do outdoor workouts. For example, Bergeron is now training clients in outdoor spaces where they can stay distanced and use minimal equipment that is thoroughly cleaned.

One strategy not to do? Skip exercising right now altogether. Although it may require more diligence in terms of avoiding germs, workouts have been shown to have profound benefits, including:

  • Boosting immune function
  • Improving sleep
  • Regulating mood
  • Helping weight control
  • Better managed blood sugar
  • Reducing risk of chronic disease
  • Improving brain health
  • Boosting energy levels

So, get your workout in, but bring some disinfectant wipes along with your water bottle and towel, and be diligent in cleaning equipment before you use it.

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Article Sources
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