When Exercise Isn’t Healthy

• Managers should communicate with facility users regarding the problem. The more people that are aware that infections can be transmitted in gym and locker-room settings, the more careful and cautious they are likely to be.

• Facility users should follow proper hygiene. Gym users should either wash their hands after using gym equipment, or use disinfectant wipes, which many gyms are now providing. Gym equipment can be a breeding ground for serious infections.

• Visitors should always shower after exercising. Women tend not to shower after exercise, while men are more likely to do so. However, showering with antibacterial soap–a must-have in any park and recreation facility–can wash away germs and bacteria before they have the opportunity to develop into a disease or infection.

• Users should avoid sharing personal items such as razors, towels or soaps. Sharing such items can lead to the spread of infectious illnesses.

• Managers should make sure soap dispensers are kept clean. Consider using soap dispensers that are refilled with soap cartridges rather than systems that have soap poured into them; studies report that the former types of dispensers are more sanitary.

• Visitors should bring two sets of clothes. Gym clothes should be worn only at the gym and washed after each workout; street clothes should be worn after taking a shower. This limits the possibility that germs and bacteria that may have gathered on gym clothes might be transmitted to the wearer or others.

What Else Can Be Done?

Prevention is the key in dealing with the spread of infectious diseases. Says Richter, “Park and rec managers must concentrate on one thing–cleaning–in two key places: exercise areas and showers and locker rooms.”

As mentioned earlier, exercise equipment can become contaminated during the course of the day. Yet in the past, most gyms were cleaned only at the end of the day, like other facilities.

“However, this has not proven adequate in gyms because of the way they are used and the number of people coming and going,” notes Richter.

Many private gyms now prefer a method best described as “continuous cleaning.” Sanitation professionals frequently mop floors; wipe down machines, mats, mirrors, sinks, counters and restroom fixtures; and perform other cleaning tasks throughout the day while the facility is open and in use.

“This type of cleaning can sometimes prove disruptive in an office-type situation, but surprisingly, it can work very well in a gym or exercise-type facility,” says Richter.

However, more extensive cleaning–what Richter refers to as “hygienic cleaning”–is required in shower and locker rooms.

“This may also mean rethinking the way locker rooms have been cleaned for decades and adopting new methods, products and technologies,” he says. “We are dealing with public-health threats that simply were not much of an issue a decade ago, but which now call for [the use of] new and more effective tools and systems.”

His suggestions for hygienic cleaning include:

• Using EPA-registered disinfectants designed to kill a broad spectrum of germs and bacteria.

• Using microfiber cleaning cloths and mop heads, which have proven to be much more effective at cleaning floors and surfaces. Color-coded microfiber cloths allow users to designate a color for cleaning each type of surface–for example, only red cloths would be used to clean toilets, eliminating the risk of cross-contamination.

• Using microfiber “smart” towel cloths. These cloths are divided into eight quadrants, allowing users to use a fresh, clean quadrant for each surface they clean. This is another way to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

• Using spray-and-vac cleaning equipment. Even with microfiber cloths–and certainly with conventional cleaning cloths and mop heads–cleaning tools can spread germs and bacteria from one surface to another. Spray-and-vac systems eliminate this problem. Similar to indoor pressure-washers, they effectively remove contaminants from surfaces, which are then vacuumed up or released down floor drains.

Cost Issues

As schools cut funding for athletics and fitness activities, many young people are now turning to park and recreation facilities to get their exercise and to engage in other sports. However, many park and recreation facilities are now facing the same economic problems that are hampering educational institutions. So the question arises: Can park and recreation facilities afford to adopt continuous-cleaning programs or more thorough, hygienic methods?

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