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Is your gym as germy as a toilet?

Finding the motivation to get to the gym just got harder.

CBS Boston reports that Fitrated, a fitness equipment review site, called on an environmental testing lab to analyze germs found at the typical gym. The results revealed that some exercise equipment harbors more germs than a bathroom. However, while it sounds gross, doctors say most people don't have too much to worry about.

Samples were collected from three different gym locations, according to Fitrated. All three are members of chains with locations across the country. At each gym, swabs were taken from three treadmills, three exercise bikes, and three free weights.

Free weights had the biggest gross-out factor. Fitrated reported that they harbored 362 times more bacteria than a toilet seat. Treadmills contained about 74 times more germs than a public bathroom sink. Exercise bikes harbored an average of 39 times more bacteria than a cafeteria tray.

A study by Fitrated found that popular gym equipment may be loaded with germs. Illustration courtesy of

All three types of equipment yielded gram-positive cocci, organisms which can include staph and strep; gram-negative rods, which can be harmful to people and may be resistant to antibiotics; and gram-positive rods, which can -- but usually don't -- cause various types of infections.

The exercise bikes and free weight samples also turned up bacillus. Some bacillus strains can lead to infections, but some are harmless or even helpful.

"Considering the sheer number of people who touch gym equipment in a facility during any given day, it should come as no surprise that the surfaces are less than spotless," Fitrated said in a statement.

Gym-goers are advised to disinfect equipment before and after they use them, and washing your hands after a workout is always a good idea.

Consider these tips for avoiding germs at the gym and in the locker room:

  • Place a clean towel on exercise and locker room benches before you sit down, recommends the CDC.
  • Avoid storing damp, dirty gym clothes in your locker -- they're an invitation for fungus. Take them home to wash after workouts.
  • Wear shoes in the gym and flip-flops to walk around the locker room so your bare feet don't become a host to germs and fungus.
  • Keep cuts and wounds clean and covered.
  • A previous study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine found rhinoviruses (the bug that causes the common cold) on 63 percent of the gym equipment at the fitness centers they tested. So, consider wiping down equipment with an alcohol-based cleaning wipe, and keep your hands away from your face after using fitness machines and free weights.

But gym-goers shouldn't be so germophobic that they avoid working out, New York City internist Dr. Len Horovitz told CBS News. Gyms are probably no more germy than offices, restaurants and many other places.

"Bacteria are all around us, not just at gyms," said Horovitz, a physician at Lenox Hill Hospital.

And they are naturally found on all of us. "Every surface is populated with bacteria and we need a normal population on our skin."

Showering after a workout with regular, good old-fashioned soap -- not even an antibacterial version -- is always a good idea, Horovitz said.

To avoid the spread of germs that could make you sick, keep hands away from your face -- eyes, mouth, nose -- while working out and after touching equipment. And wash your hands with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, after working out if you don't have time for a shower.

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