You know how much I love to write about the health benefits of exercise. And I’ll never stop encouraging you to make regular physical activity a top priority. Which is why today’s topic might surprise you…
Because I’m issuing a word of caution about one of the most common ways people tend to exercise (at least before the pandemic hit). I’m talking about the hidden health hazards of working out in a gym.
A sweaty brew of unknowns
This may come as news to you, but humans are actually a large source of indoor emissions. In fact, I recently came across a study showing that one person working up a sweat can emit as many chemicals from their body as five sedentary people.
And these human “emissions”—the amino acids from sweat, or the acetone on your breath—can combine with other substances to make new chemicals. Chemicals that might constitute a surprising source of air pollution.
Given how many other chemicals you’ll find in indoor air in a gym, it’s safe to say that you’ve got quite a cauldron of unknowns brewing.
And we aren’t necessarily going to be able to detect them either. Our noses may adjust to the smells we generate, but that doesn’t mean the emissions have disappeared—they linger, even long after we’ve left the room.
That’s why researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder performed a little experiment: They outfitted their athletic center’s weight room with equipment that would sample air and provide data on the airborne chemicals it contained during and after workouts.
And the findings were concerning, to say the least…
Concerning chemical combos
I probably don’t need to point out that a lot of gyms use bleach-based cleaning products to sanitize their equipment and facilities. Obviously, while effective at killing bacteria, it also sets the stage for the creation of some concerning chemical cocktails.
In fact, this research team was the first to identify a group of chemicals called N-chloraldimines in the gym’s air.
These invisible compounds are a byproduct of chlorine bleach combining with amino acids. Which tells you that the cleaning products were reacting with the emissions from gymgoers’ sweaty bodies.
Whether or not that speaks to dangerous air quality is still unclear. And while we haven’t identified “gym-borne illnesses” yet, as with anything where chemicals are involved, it could take years before someone makes that scientific connection.
But given what we already know about the threats of household cleaners and personal care products… it really wouldn’t be so shocking.
Needless to say, I think it’s something we should be taking seriously.
Because let’s face it: Most of our time is spent indoors. Which means that the quality of indoor air—which combines the chemicals on our clothes, furniture, and other places with the chemicals coming from our own bodies—should probably be our biggest consideration.
If nothing else, consider this yet another warning before you return to a gym—especially with COVID-19 still running rampant through our nation. Because aside from the obvious infectious risks of working out indoors with other people, it’s fair to assume that facilities are “sanitizing” more aggressively than ever.
And as this research suggests, that, too, could very well end up being an equally dangerous health threat.
These authors insist that, despite collecting their data before the pandemic, that gyms today (provided they keep occupancy low and have good ventilation systems in place) may still be reasonably safe options, with masking rules in place.
But I have to say, I’m not especially convinced that’s true. So if you want my recommendation? Spend at least 20 minutes a day doing some sort of exercise—but do it at home or outside whenever you can.
P.S. I tackle three effective ways to protect yourself from pollution indoors and outdoors in the August 2017 issue of my monthly newsletter, Logical Health Alternatives (“Surprising sources of air pollution lurking inside your own home”). Subscribers have access to that and all of my past content in the archives. So if you haven’t already, consider becoming a subscriber today. Click here now!
“Sweat, bleach and gym air quality: Chemical reactions make new airborne chemicals.” Science Daily, 01/05/2021. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210105130110.htm)