Working out with millions of your little friends

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Those exercise mats at your gym everyone uses aren’t quite as innocent as they look. With people pouring sweat into them all day the combination of heat and moisture creates the perfect breeding ground for bad bacteria, viruses, and fungus that give rise to such things as MRSA infections, scaly circular rashes, boils and blisters, and nail fungus.

That’s because “We are walking microbial planets [who] shed huge amounts of skin cells every day from our bodies, as many as 500 million by some estimates,” says infectious disease specialist Brad Spellberg, MD, chief medical officer at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. And so “If someone has a nasty bug and they shed it, you can acquire it when you touch the surface [of the mat].”

Because even a slight cut or abrasion on your skin can give these microbes a way into your body you want to protect yourself in the following ways:

  • Bring your own mat. Clean it with soap & water or an alcohol-based sanitizer after each use.
  • Shower immediately after exercise. Don’t share items that touch your bare skin.
  • Cover any irritated or open skin – cuts and scrapes – with a bandage. Lay a towel down when you sit on shared surfaces.
  • Wash your workout clothes after each use.
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