dave-mittlemanThis is the time of the year when everyone starts a New Year’s resolution, and sticks to it–at least for a while. Many people make resolutions to lose weight or exercise more, and that usually means joining a gym when you’re talking about winter in Michigan. However, what many people don’t realize is that gyms can be a health hazard, rather than a health promoter. For example, bacteria in poorly maintained pools or staph infections on dirty gym equipment can lead to some nasty infections. In addition, you could be injured while using exercise machinery if you don’t know what you’re doing. Finally, you could suffer an exercise-related heart problem if you don’t visit your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen–especially if you are really out of shape. Read below for more of the top health hazards that your local gym could present:

  • Skin infections: staph infections can start out relatively harmless. In fact, most staph infections look like a bad pimple on your body. However, they can swell, become larger, and eventually develop pus. Even worse, the infection can travel into your blood stream if it isn’t taken care of in due time. MRSA bacteria like to live on shared gym equipment, towels, and mats. Infections tend to occur near preexisting scrapes on the body, or in moist areas like the buttocks, armpits, groin, and neck. Staph infections can clear up on their own, but you should seek medical attention immediately if you develop a fever or if the area becomes red, tender, or hot to the touch. You can prevent staph infections by using the disinfect sprays or wipes that most gyms provide before and after using gym equipment. Don’t share your gym equipment with others, and always take a shower immediately after working out.
  • Dirty pools: unfortunately, poorly maintained pools are common and bacteria that grow in pools can cause gastrointestinal illnesses. To prevent yourself from getting ill, shower before entering the pool and always wash your hands after using the restroom (or changing a baby’s diaper) to protect others. In addition, don’t use the pool water if it has a strong chemical smell or if the water looks cloudy.
  • Strained muscles: sure, everyone wants to look like they know what they’re doing when they hit the weights (guys, that means you) but weight lifting injuries have increased by 50% since 1990, especially in individuals over 45. To prevent injury, try warming up with gentle jogging or easy lifts. Moreover, only use weights light enough that you can do 15 steady repetitions without straining yourself. Do the lifts slowly (taking about 2 seconds to lift and 4 to lower) and make sure that you are able to stop the weight at any point during the repetition. Don’t hold your breath; doing so could spike your blood pressure and cause fainting.
  • Heart attacks: true, exercise builds your immunity to heart disease. However, if you’re already in bad shape, you can actually increase your risk of having a heart attack–especially if you’re working out too strenuously. Always talk to your doctor before starting a workout, especially if you are middle-aged or older, sedentary, and at risk of heart disease. If you have the cold or flu, also consider scaling back your workouts or stopping until you get better. A 2009 study found that a recent episode of fatigue or the flu can increase the risk of heart attack.
  • Eye injuries: believe it or not, Americans suffer 40,000 eye injuries each year and a large number are caused by flying sports equipment. For example, racquetball, squash, and tennis are leading causes of sports-related injuries among people 25 to 65. To protect your eyes while playing high-risk sports, wear protective eyegear with impact-resistant lenses. If you already wear glasses, you should purchase a separate pair for use during high-risk sports.

Now that you know the risks of going to the gym, don’t let these factors stop you from accomplishing your New Year’s resolution. With the right prevention, you can protect yourself from needless infections and injuries while still reaping the benefits of exercising and getting in better health!