Ways to Safeguard Your Health in the Locker Room
Posted 9/29/2016 by UHBlog
As the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter, many of us will move our workouts indoors. That means you'll spend more time in school or fitness center locker rooms--places that can be breeding grounds for bacteria, viruses, fungi and other maladies.
“Most viruses and other contagions love humidity, which is a combination of moisture and heat,” says physical therapist Paul M. Smith, PT, MS, AT, CGFI. “That pretty much describes every locker room I’ve ever been in. Throw on top of that an avenue for bacteria or viruses to get into the body through mucus membranes, like the nose or eyes, or skin cuts. So if you’re playing pick-up basketball and you get a court burn or abrasion, your skin is compromised and you have a greater opportunity to develop (an ailment) when you go into a high-humidity situation.”
That doesn’t mean you need to encase yourself in a plastic bubble upon entering the locker room. Whether your child heads to the school’s locker room after a soccer match or you shower in the fitness center’s locker room following yoga class, Smith advises taking these common-sense steps to protect your health:
- Wash your hands. Chances are, you’ve been swinging a sweaty kettlebell, lifting dusty weights or throwing a muddy football before grabbing the locker room’s oft-touched doors and lockers. Every time you touch those items, you’re coming into contact with the germs of the people who handled them before you.
“Wash your hands with soap and water for as long as it takes to sing, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,’” Smith says. “Hand sanitizer helps, too.”
Once your hands are clean, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet. Otherwise, you undo the benefits of the washing.
- Wear flip flops. They protect you against slipping on wet floors and decrease the chances of developing athlete’s foot or nail fungus. And don’t forget to wash and dry the flip flops. Smith recommends using a 3 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide mixed with water. (He adds a shot glass-size amount of the mixture to his laundry, too.)
- Scrub your feet. Further protect yourself against athlete’s foot and nail fungus by washing the bottom of your feet and between your toes with soap and water.
- Tend to wounds. Open cuts should be washed with soap and water, treated with antibiotic cream and covered with a bandage to reduce the chance of contracting a staph infection or MRSA, a bacterial infection that is resistant to many antibiotics. Contracting these infections in locker rooms is rare, Smith says, but can occur when bacteria enter through an open wound or from rubbing your eyes.
- Create a barrier. Unless you’re already wearing shorts, lay a clean towel on the locker room bench before you sit. Likewise, cover toilet seats with paper liners, if your workout facility provides them.
- Don’t share hygiene supplies. That means towels that can grow mold or fungus when wet, razors that hold another person’s DNA, hairbrushes or combs that can transmit lice, and even tubs of ointment.
“You reach your fingers in there and the next person reaches in and it becomes a communal watering hole for bacteria, so to speak,” Smith says.
- Clean your gym bag. After being in a hot locker while you exercise, your duffel probably gets stuffed with wet clothes and towels, then sits in the car for hours while you run errands or go to work. Ditto for helmets, gloves, hockey sticks and other equipment. Again, Smith recommends washing these items with hydrogen peroxide.
Paul M. Smith, PT, MS, AT, CGFI, is a physical therapist, Titleist Performance Institute (TPI) certified golf fitness instructor and sports rehabilitation manager at University Hospitals Mayfield Village Health Center. You can request an appointment with Smith or any other health care provider online.