This story originally appeared on GoodHousekeeping.com, written by Amy Roberts.
This year is different. You’ve decided to stick to your work out plan, and you got a gym membership to stay motivated. What you may not have bargained for: The risk of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and skin infection-causing germs. No, that’s not an excuse to be a couch potato. Thankfully, most people have healthy immune protections and do fine. But you should take some precautions. Here are the most common places those germs lurk – and how you can stay healthy.
1) Dumbbells and free weights
The biggest risk in gyms are ‘common touch surfaces’ – things that people touch with their hands. Hand weights and barbells are among the most handled items in a health club, and are likely carriers of everything from the common cold to influenza to gastrointestinal infections. Your best defence: Carry a pack of surface sanitizing wipes and wipe as you go from one piece of equipment to the next.
2) Cardio Equipment
The handles and buttons on treadmills, ellipticals and other cardio machines can be just as problematic as the barbells. Wipe down the “touch surfaces” before you use them. Interesting fact: Personal trainers recommend not holding on in most cases, as you’ll get a better workout. Also, don’t use your hands to wipe sweat from your face, as this offers bugs a beeline into your system. Blot with a towel instead.
3) Shower & Locker Room Floors
The second most common infection you can get at the gym—after the common cold—is Athlete’s Foot, a fungus that thrives on damp floors. Don’t go barefoot anywhere in the gym (even the yoga studio). In locker rooms, wear shower sandals, and dry your feet well before putting on your clean socks and dry shoes. Also, rinse and dry your flip-flops thoroughly before stashing them in a plastic bag inside your gym bag.
4) The Workout Mats
Mats are a favorite hangout of skin infections like ringworm, as well as respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. If you can, it’s best if you bring your own mat, and clean it often with sanitizing wipes or sprays. Tip: In a pinch, placing a towel between you and the mat can help.
5) Shared Towels
MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus for all you curious cats), causes a nasty, hard-to-treat skin infection. The most common culprit for this infection is shared towels at the gym. It’s smart to bring your own clean towel with you, but if you use the ones at the gym, be sure you don’t mix up yours with anyone else’s. Keep any cuts or scrapes well-covered (MRSA invades through wounds) and shower thoroughly post-workout.
6) The Water Fountain
Wet areas have the greatest chance of being contaminated. Take care not to let your lips—or your bottle—touch the water fountain’s spout, and don’t wipe your mouth with your hand after sipping. And if you do use a water bottle, clean it every day.
7) Your Gym Bag
The last thing you want, aside from actually getting sick, is to take all those germs home with you. Pathogens can be carried on clothing. It’s a good idea to put your used clothes and shoes in a separate plastic bag inside your gym bag after the workout. Wash clothes and towels on a high-temp wash cycle—and don’t re-wear the dirty ones for your next workout. Wash the bag itself regularly, too, or at least spritz it down with a sanitizing spray. And if you feel under the weather, do everyone else a favor and don’t go to the gym until you’re healthy!