Working out is all about improving your health. But if you aren't careful about your hygiene, you might get stuck with a cold — or worse. If you're the kind of person who has made working out a major part of your weekly routine, then that's amazing, and your body certainly thanks you! But keep in mind that you are that much more susceptible to nasty germs when you're constantly working out, and you need to make sure you take care of yourself. Nothing is more annoying than getting into a regular workout routine, then having to stop for a few weeks because of a bad cold.
A few things you can do before even hitting the gym? Get a good night's sleep, maintain a healthy diet, take a multivitamin, and wash your hands frequently. The key to avoiding a cold is by making sure your immune system is prepared! That way, the germs hardly stand a chance. Here are a few things you should not be doing if you want to avoid illnesses and infections of all kinds. Remember: Be smart, be safe, and wash your hands a lot.
1. Rolling up your yoga mat, and leaving it until the next class
After a run, you wouldn't ball up your sweaty shorts and use them again next week, would you? Moisture, darkness, and warmth are bacteria's three favorite things, and if you you don't clean off your mat after a sweaty yoga session, chances are they're going to colonize it and potentially cause infections. Common bacteria you might find on a dirty mat include propionibacteria acnes, which are linked to acne and other skin conditions, trichophyton, which can cause athlete’s foot and ringworm, and streptococcus, which can cause “flesh-eating” strep infections and meningitis. Even if you don't share it with anyone, a rarely-cleaned yoga mat can cause all kinds of infections if you let bacteria fester on it.
2. Wearing your gym clothes all day
While going for post-workout smoothies with your gym buddy might be super adorable (and very Instagram-friendly), staying in the same sweaty workout gear all day is not. Regardless of how comfy those yoga pants might be, wearing damp clothing for an extended period of time is bad news. They can cause acne and yeast infections, and nothing is worth that kind of discomfort. Your best move is to shower immediately after you finish your workout. If you don't have access to one, the second-best thing you can do is at least change your outfit — underwear, socks, and all.
3. Going barefoot in the sauna or shower
When it comes to public locker rooms, flip-flops are an absolute must. That is, if you want to avoid fungus, wart viruses, and the endless amount of germs that thrive in damp areas just like showers. Don't have flip-flops lying around? Stand on a towel after getting out of the shower so you don't undo the foot cleaning you just finished.
4. Using your hands to wipe away sweat
As you probably know, gyms are breeding grounds for germs. Spending 30 minutes on the elliptical and then hitting the weights means a whole lot of exposure to other people's germs. Make sure you keep your hands off your face during your workout, and bring a towel with which to wipe off sweat. Wash those hands as soon as you finish your workout, and you should be good to go! Make sure to keep that sweat towel clean, too — throw it in the wash right when you get home to avoid a bacteria frenzy.
5. Not bringing your own water bottle
Lugging a water bottle to the gym can be a bit of a nuisance, but it's much better than drinking from a fountain. Apparently, water fountain spigots can have 2.7 million bacterial cells per square inch, which sounds like a pretty good way to catch a cold. It's probably safer to bring your own H2O, so you can avoid the potential risk of catching mono without all the fun kissing.
6. Waiting to wash your face
Even if you don't have enough time for a shower after your Pilates class, still try to quickly cleanse your face! Bacteria can build up in your pores during your workout, which can lead to inflammation and acne. Yuck. Take a few minutes and wash your skin as soon as you finish up at the gym, then apply an anti-inflammatory moisturizer to help with redness. Your pores will thank you later, trust me.