Elisa Shackelton: Don't let your workout make you sick

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— Any time people are in close quarters, there's an elevated risk of sharing germs, such as cold and flu viruses or skin infections.

Bugs can be easily spread if an infected person at the gym wipes his mouth or nose, touches the treadmill or bench press, and then you touch the equipment and touch your mouth or eyes. And we're heading into peak cold and flu season, so with more viruses circulating, there's an even greater chance you could pick something up at the gym (or the bus or the grocery store or a busy restaurant).

The solution isn't to skip your workouts, but to be extra-vigilant about hygiene

The best way to protect yourself is to make sure you wash your hands before you touch your face. Some gyms now provide alcohol-gel dispensers that you can use to kill germs on contact after you touch equipment. If your gym doesn't have them, you could - at the risk of looking like a clean freak - bring a small bottle of your own. Also be sure to wipe down the equipment before and after you use it. Many gyms make available antiseptic spray bottles and paper towels so you can steer clear of other people's slimy sweat. If your gym doesn't offer them, speak to management.

Viruses aren't the only concern. A more dangerous, though much less common, threat is a bacterium called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA can lead to an aggressive skin infection that may cause boils, redness, swelling and discomfort, and doctors worry about it because it continues to mutate and doesn't respond to certain antibiotics. MRSA and other types of staph infections can be contracted by touching equipment and then touching a scratch or other skin opening - providing you with another good reason to clean grimy machines before you use them.

Where Are The Germs?

- Any piece of exercise equipment that people touch with their hands or that have the potential to catch dripping body fluids should be considered potential germ sources.

- Exercise mats, including yoga mats, can spread germs, so wash them down, too. Better yet, bring your own.

- Warm, wet locker rooms are hot beds for microbes. Showers, in particular are notorious places for harboring lots of germs like fungi that can cause athlete's foot. Another foot hazard is the bacteria that causes plantar warts. So get some flip-flops, pack them in your gym bag, wear them in the locker room and then take them home and let them dry out before using them again.

- If you use the sauna, be sure to sit on a towel. Otherwise, you could get a rash.

Did you know?

The travel velocity of a sneeze can be as much as 100 mph?! For this reason, children and adults are all being taught to sneeze into the inner bend of their arm at the elbow, rather than into their hands, or worse yet, directly into the air near other people.

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