Flu season marks a time when countless men and women power through work, workouts, and holiday parties – sniffling and coughing all the way. The next few months can be a stressful time for people trying to stay healthy; if you aren’t careful, you can wind up nursing a cold or flu of your own.

For many of us, the gym is a safe haven during the holiday season. After all, working out helps keep our bodies healthy (and burns off all those holiday goodies). We know that there’s nothing more frustrating than getting sick from something you picked up at the gym – and if you try out these tips, you just might stop the spread of germs:

Rethink Your Gym Bag:

While it’s true that most of the germs in your gym bag are your own, you still run a risk of picking something up every time you set it down. On top of the germs that cause the common cold, you run the risk of picking up microbes like E. coli, staph, and salmonella every time you set down your trusty duffle bag.

So how do you avoid it? According to researchers at the Columbia University School of Nursing, vinyl or plastic bags are your best bet. These materials are less likely to attract bacteria and will keep you from bringing a petri dish of germs home with you each day. Wrap your shoes and dirty clothes in a plastic bag, too, as this will keep germs you might have picked up from contaminating the inside of your bag. Finally, if you have to have a cloth gym bag, be sure to wash it at least once a week.

Don’t Forget The Flip Flops:

Believe it or not, the risk of spreading germs at the gym is pretty high all year round. In fact, Jack Foley, athletic trainer and director of sports medicine at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., told the New York Times that anyone who exercises should always assume they’ve been exposed to skin infections!

One of the most germ-ridden places in a gym is the locker room floor. To prevent catching something, it’s best that you always wear flip flops or shower shoes whenever you are in the locker room. And we mean EVERYWHERE – in the bathrooms, in the sauna, even as you walk to the pool. Those little shoes just might save you from bacteria that causes MRSA, athlete’s foot, and even ringworm.

Hydrate At Home:

You would hope that most people stopped putting their mouths on the drinking fountain spout after the first or second grade. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case. The drinking fountain is a veritable breeding ground for viruses and bacteria – particularly germs that cause cold and flu.

Thankfully, there is a very simple fix to keep you from catching something at the water fountain: don’t use it! Bring a full water bottle with you from home (even two if you’re in for a tough workout). But whatever you do, we’re begging you, don’t use the drinking fountain.

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Wipe Down EVERYTHING:

Odds are, your gym has a sign posted somewhere asking patron to wipe down the equipment. If you’re lucky, they may even provide sanitizing gym wipes or paper towels with antimicrobial soap. Even with signage clearly posted, we all know that someone will forget to wipe down the treadmill or the weight bench.

Here’s a great rule of thumb: don’t be that person. In fact, double down on wiping equipment and wipe everything down before and after you use it. This will ensure that you have cleaned off any germs that may be lingering. Sanitizing gym wipes are a great way to kill off those germs and keep the machines and weights nice and clean, making your gym and healthier place for everyone.

Skip Hitting The Showers:

OK, this one is tough. Many people need to shower after a workout – either they’re in a hurry to get to the office or if they’ve got to pick up the kids from school. However, the reality is that the gym shower is a prime spot for picking up something like a flu virus or a staph infection. On top of the germs lurking in the floor, the warm, damp atmosphere acts as a great place for bacteria to grow and thrive.

The best way to avoid germs from your gym’s shower is to always make sure you shower at home. However, if you must shower at the gym, be sure to take precautions. Always wear your shower shoes. Use antimicrobial soap. And whatever you do, do not shave (bacteria can worm their way into your system through any little cut or nick).

We all know that a cold can really derail your plans during the holiday season. Don’t let that happen to you! With our tips, you should be healthy and ready for anything all winter long.

Author Bio: Gracia Smith has as worked as a physical therapist and personal trainer for the past eight years. Her own fitness journey – including a remarkable 130-pound weight loss – continues to inspire clients from all walks of life. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her family.

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