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Toxic Gyms - Are they worth the tradeoff with minimal harm?


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I just joined this gym, it's pretty new, a little over a year old. So all the materials are all still pretty new. And whenever I walk in there I instantly smell all the off gassing of the toxic materials. I can't help it, I'm very sensitive. Each area of the place has a different smell, but each one is totally off. I walk up the stairs and through one part of it and it smells like a pool to me, even though there is no pool there. Just like chlorine or something. Then I walk in the weight area or spinning room and smell the pure awful smell of rubber. Each area smells different but it all smells like building materials and really bad.


There is not much ventilation either as far as fresh outdoor air coming in. There are several balconies but you have to go out on them to get the fresh outdoor air. I usually have to park several blocks away and by the time that I walk or jog to the gym with the clean outdoor air and then walk inside I smell it all and instantly feel claustrophobic and like I can't breathe as easily as I did outdoors. Instantly I worry again about breathing in and absorbing all these toxins I smell, esp. while breathing so much harder working out and taking in even Deeper breaths of these chemicals in the air. I know this is pretty standard for gyms. I don't know of any gyms that are green or built with toxin free or low toxin materials like natural rubber floors instead of synthetic full of chemical additives etc. I also walked into the yoga room while they were cleaning it and the smell was horrible, I had to leave. It just all concerns me because I know all these environmental toxins really contribute to major health problems and are all carcinogenic.


I also leave after working out there at night and when I get home I usually start feeling really tired, even on the way home. Even a little spacey even. I thought that it was because of the workout itself and low blood sugar, but maybe it has something to do with breathing in the toxins? Because I don't remember feeling that way after working out at home or outdoors. Exercising usually makes me feel more energetic and alert, not the opposite. I'm going to try switching my workouts to the morning and see how I feel after those.


But my main question is do you think the benefits of using the variety of equipment and features of a gym and the health benefits of working out outweigh the health damage of breathing in the toxins in gyms while working out? And do you think that being exposed to that only an hour or two a day would have much effect anyways on our health and toxin level? I know there are toxins everywhere, but when I smell them that strongly, it makes me think that they are that much more concentrated and breathing them in so deeply can't be that good right? Accumulatively. Is there a way to help detox and safeguard ourselves from these toxins both from the gym and in other buildings that are made with a lot of toxic materials? And this is just the toxins, I'm not even talking about the germs and all of the gyms from all the people touching the same equipment and sweating on everything and all. I know that staph and fungus infections are common to spread in gyms and all. Seems like a high risk place in exchange for getting fit and trying to get healthy.


What do you think?

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the gym i've been using for years is sealed, fresh air only gets in when people enter or leave, and for a place this size that cannot matter at all. I've had no health problems even though the equipment was new along with the building itself.

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I'm not talking about the germs, I know about those risks but I'm not too worried about that. I'm talking about all the toxins, the chemicals. These are not natural for our bodies to have to deal with and they accumulate in our organs.


"According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution is responsible for more deaths worldwide than outdoor air in even the most contaminated cities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers indoor air one of the four most urgent environmental health risks in North America (where we don't heat homes with coal or warm food with cow dung), up there with atmospheric air pollution, toxic chemicals in the workplace and contaminated drinking water."


"The highest danger comes from volatile organic chemicals [VOCs], asbestos and radon," explains Robert Eitches, M.D., an allergy specialist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. "Those are the indoor air pollutants that would be dangerous in the sense of ending your life too soon." The VOCs contained in paint, varnish, wax and many cleaning products react with one another in the air and can interfere with your body's natural processes. While some VOCs have no known health effects, others can cause medical problems ranging from ear, nose and throat irritation to liver, kidney and central nervous system damage."


"Most adults, when sitting still, take 14 to 20 complete breaths per minute. (That rate can go as high as 80 breaths per minute during a strenuous workout.) With each average inhalation, you take in a pint of air. With a deep breath, you "drink" approximately three times that amount. If all you did was breathe while sitting, then you would consume about 107,000 cubic feet of air per year. That is why air contaminants, measured at parts per million, can eventually overwhelm your body's ability to protect against them."


"Elevated levels of indoor air pollution have also been linked to headaches, dizziness, and fatigue."


"Low quality of air can have major adverse effects on the benefits of exercise by irritating the respiratory system and reducing oxygen flow."


"Exercise makes us more vulnerable to health damage from these pollutants. We breathe more air during exercise or strenuous work. We draw air more deeply into the lungs. And when we exercise heavily, we breathe mostly through the mouth, bypassing the body's first line of defense against pollution, the nose."









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I would be hesitant to work out (which makes one breath more deeply) in an environment like that. You might want to avoid that particular gym for a few months, untill the bulk of the outgassing is done (and other people have breathed in the toxins!). Though we are exposed to toxins on a daily basis, I think it's a good idea to avoid those we can avoid.

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CollegeB, thanks for your feedback. At your gym did you ever notice any weird smells though, like chemical or construction type of smells? Besides just the lack of airflow.


Thanks Kathryn. But I think all gyms are like that right? I mean most all gyms have rubber flooring right? And they all use standard cleaning materials as far as I I know of. I'm just very sensitive to smells, I have a very good sense of smell. I don't know if the bad smells mean that it is more toxic then any other indoor environment or not. I mean even natural rubber smells horrible to me.


I know there are gyms that have better air circulation though. But the thing is I'm paying $135 a month on contract. I couldn't just stop going without knowing that I was wasting a huge amount of money for something I'm not using. They have a couple other locations but one is much too far away and the other one is even newer then this location, it just completed construction like a month ago. This location I go to has been open for over 15 months now and I had gone there about 9 months ago to check it out and the smell hasn't really improved. So I don't think in a few more months it will either. I mean it doesn't smell bad like rank or anything weird, it just smells like construction materials in many parts of it. Like a new building smells. The smells of paint, plywood and whatever else is there. Plus all the cleaning materials I guess cause they keep it very clean all day long constantly for hygiene purposes. Which is good, just too bad they don't use natural stuff.


I don't know, I just don't want to avoid it or try to get out of the contract out of paranoia or any irrational fears or obsessions. I have always had OCD tendancies and hypochondria etc.

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ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS at least wash ur hands thoroughly after working out (if not shower!!!) You don't know the kinds of germs that abound in gyms... I didn't either, and that's how I ended up in the hospital last summer with a severe and near-fatal MRSA infection. (6 days in insolation, 2 months on intravenous vancomycin via a PICC line, and 2 months of physical therapy in order to regain the use of my right hand). Not fun. I'll spare u the gory details (unless you want them, and I'll be happy to share! lol), but just be wary of whats lurking microscopically in the gym.

Edited by Shelby
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Do you not go to gyms anymore Shelby? Do you think they're not worth the risk? Maybe not without full clothing and full coverage gloves? Infections can get into hands themselves without even touching other parts of the body. I'm sorry about what happened to you, sounds awful, I'm glad you pulled through. I don't need the details though, knowing that alone already is feeding more obsessions and phobias of mine. I'm seriously going to become very phobic of the gym very soon. I'll need a letter from a psychiatrist to get out of the contract.

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nik: I didn't mean to scare ya away from gyms!!!! That TOTALLY WAS NOT MY INTENT!!! Yikes... now I feel horrible! Basically, germ and microbes are EVERYWHERE, even in gyms. It's unavoidable, but with proper hygiene and thorough cleaning of equipment, you can prevent illnesses/infections. Plus, the risk of actually contracting something is EXTREMELY RARE!!! What I contracted was like a 1/1,000,000,000 chance (lucky me, eh?!)


What you CAN do to decrease your chances of contracting anything are (and to remind you, the chances of contracting anything is VERY SLIM... our bodies are awesome at killing foreign invaders even BEFORE we notice symptoms, thanks to our immune system and it's associated structures such as mucous membranes, saliva, lymph, WBC, etc.....)

-Wash your hands before and after working out and after using the bathroom

-Wipe off sweaty benches, machines, equipment

-Cover up any cuts or breaks in the skin when working out

-take a shower (wear flip-flops if using the gym's shower)

-eat a nutritious diet

-stay hydrated



Another key thing is not NOT let yourself get too germ-phobic. Don't overuse anti-bacterial soaps and lotions and avoid places/things just because you are afraid of germs. You need to let your body develop defenses against germs and the only way to do this is to be exposed to germs.


I feel REALLY bad that I scared ya with my freaky incident. In fact, I went to the gym as soon as I could after I got discharged from the hospital (with my attractive PICC Line and Hand-brace in place!) Sure, I looked like I had just gotten out of a war (and still felt like poop), but did that stop me from doing something that I LOVED to do??? Not for one second. When I first went back, I was of course weary of contracting another infection, but that quickly ceased. I don't even wear gloves anymore. I eventually changed gyms (to one that was cleaner and more friendly.. but this was unrelated to the MRSA incident), but have I stopped going to the gym b.c of this? HECK NO! So, don't let a little thing like germs keep u from going to the gym! Your body can overcome just about anything and the chances of u contracting anything are extremely small.

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Uh…. Maybe not like dragon boating, the outdoors poses health risks too. Some girl from one of our teams got an eye infection after getting Willamette water under her contact. Blah!


In related news did you hear Portland is being sued be the EPA? (I think I have that right I just heard about it today). One of the last things that Clinton did when he was in office was to have the EPA work with cities to lower the amount of sewer runoff in to rivers. Portland signed some 20 year contract to reduce the amount of runoff from 100 days a year down to 4 days. (Not perfect but no too bad). Now Bush is cracking down more and the Oregon reps are saying it’s all political. This is something that is going to start happening in other cities too, Portland is just the first.

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Don't worry Shelby, you didn't scare me anymore then I was already paranoid. I've already been a germaphobe around people and read many things about drug resistant staph becoming a major problem in gyms and esp. contact sports like football, wrestling and other professional sports. I just hadn't heard of a first hand account from anyone of it happening.


"Louis Meier, MD, emergency room doctor at Palmetto Health Richland, says, “We have seen an increase in MRSA among the community, especially in places like the gym and standard drugs don’t work, so we’re left with an even greater complication.”


An outbreak of MRSA was discovered among football players at Western Carolina University in 2004. It was traced to the locker room, shared towels, equipment and mats."











I'm still going to go though. I think I will just start bringing my own towel and wipes. I do shower as soon as I get home and wash my clothes right away. I just hate having to worry about it and feeling like all my clothes and everything that's touched anything there is somehow contaminated now. But that's just my uptight mind.


Thanks madcat. True, I won't really enjoy it being worried but I never expected to really enjoy working out anyways. And I think the only way to overcome phobias is to face them. I'm sure I would find something to worry about with any kind of outdoor sport as well. I have many friends with horrible long hospital stay stories from outdoor bike riding, and last time I was on my bike I ate pavement with many nasty road burns that are still healing. A person with an anxiety disorder doesn't much enjoy anything because they have a hard time relaxing. I know I have to just address that and overcome it or seek help rather then just avoiding life in general. Thanks everyone!

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If you're in the U.S., the chance of a gym a year old having asbestos, radon, or lead paint is miniscule.


No, thank god. But there are many other chemicals and toxins in materials and paints and other things in buildings. VOC's etc. And the newer the materials the more they are still offgasing. When I first moved into my apt. it was just finished construction on it as I was moving in. One whole area of it was all made with some type of plastic material etc. I had major symptoms and each time I walked in I could smell the difference, then not notice it after a while. But I had major sleep problems, felt drugged, tired and spacey (brain fog) all the time and started breaking out a lot. Now, years later, all the smells are gone and so are the weird symptoms I got all of a sudden after I moved in. They only lasted a few months, those were the worst.


I'll just pay attention to any symptoms closely. We haven't gotten rid of all toxic materials and substances in buildings. We need to though. We need to go green.


"Among the biggest indoor-air-polluting culprits identified by M&O are pressed-wood products like plywood and particleboard, which are assembled using urea-formaldehyde (UF) glues and adhesives. Formaldehyde has been deemed a probable human carcinogen by the EPA. It's also a known irritant that can cause or exacerbate allergic reactions. Nevertheless, it continues to be widely used to manufacture construction materials and household furniture and is commonly found in cabinets and paneling, walls, floors, textiles, and roofs. Formaldehyde is also used to produce permanent-press clothing and curtains, as well as to preserve some paints. All of these products can "offgas" formaldehyde, contributing to poor indoor air quality.


"All of us are exposed to a certain amount of formaldehyde everyday," says George Semeniuk, EPA Formaldehyde Project Manager in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. "What concerns us are elevated levels."


Perhaps the scariest thing about indoor air pollution is that you don't have to do anything in particular to put yourself in harm's way. Just going about your daily business is enough. The chairs on which you sit, the desk at which you work, and the kitchen in which you eat are all possible sources of formaldehyde.


Because formaldehyde and other indoor air pollutants can induce symptoms that look very much like the common cold or flu, faulty diagnoses are not uncommon. To avoid this pitfall, the EPA's Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) division recommends that you pay particular attention to where and when you experience symptoms. If you find yourself sniffling or coughing only after you come indoors, you may want to start investigating your home for possible contaminants."

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  • 6 years later...

Hi Nik,

I was so pleased to read your posting about the toxicity of gym environments, and know that I am not alone in feeling like this. I recently moved house and joined a gym that has just refurbished itself and has a swimming pool. As soon as you get in the gym's car park your senses are assaulted by high levels of chlorine in the air, and when you enter the building it gets much worse as you are instantly inhaling a toxic cocktail of synthetic noxious fumes from the new fittings - floor and equipment aswell. Although there is air conditioning and fans to circulate the air, the quality of the air itself feels really bad... loaded with chemicals. And, as the whole point of going to a gym is to improve my health and fitness, I feel deeply uncomfortable with the fact that being there, and inhaling this air deeply, is counterproductive to all my efforts to cleanse and detox my body on a predominantly living foods diet. I *know* these chemicals are carcinogenic. So why do gyms do it??


I am also starting to wonder whether some people are simply becoming more sensitive to their environments in general, and that this is part of a broader picture - especially among vegans, that takes in the other senses aswell. For example, I am finding that I am having to leave the gym earlier than previously because I just can't bear the music they are playing on the sound system. I even walked out of a spinning class because the music actually became painful to my ears aswell as offensive.


I am hoping to increase my outdoor training, maybe join a local running club, although I am missing the fantastic weights classes my previous gym ran.


Maybe we should start a campaign for cleaner (ie non-toxic) gyms?

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My gym is new, but thank goodness the owner is health conscientious and she finds all sorts of ways to get rid of toxic stuff. There is an older crowd in the morning, so they make quite a ruckus if the next door Hardware store has had a mishap of chemicals in their backroom, and it gets into the venting system. The owner is prone to open the front door, and then open the back door with a fan to take out the fumes - and it is usually gone in an hour or so - so that is when I come back to the gym when the nose says it is OK. They also use all natural cleaners to clean the gym thoroughly - so no harsh chemicals left on the equipment afterwards. Have you talked to the gym's owner and see where he/she stands on this issue? If they don't care about it, then they don't care about the health of their customers, and are in it only for the money. See if there is another gym around perhaps - even the ones who rent a storage unit and have equipment for you to use in it! or get your own weight bench and weights - start your own dumbbell collection!

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