Physical Fit: Ringworm, Athlete’s Foot, and the “Crud”

Gym-crowding season… That beautiful time when the resolutions of the New Year still have the power to motivate people with a natural state of indolence to gird their loins and push themselves towards more active lifestyles and healthier choices… until the crowds and the close proximity of those individuals become the breeding ground of contagion decimating thousands of inspirational fitness memes and individual resolves. Yes, my friends, I speak of another season: The cold and flu season.

Recently, our local area schools have shut down due to so many teachers and students being out sick. Some people might think that is overly dramatic, but there are folks who would show up to school or work like patient zero if they didn’t shut down the whole place. (See Sick At Work.) However, these institutions of learning are not the only incubation zones for the next plague. We have the workplace, houses of worship (of varying varieties because showing up in public for religious events is totally immune and entirely safe from passing along the next mutation of H1N1), entertainment venues, and of course… the gym.

Oh yes, this place that is the bastion of healthy life choices can become a greenhouse for pestilential flora and fauna. And can I just for a moment comment that humans, of the allegedly adult variety, are just nasty? Seriously.

My gym is actually very nice. It is usually clean. The bathroom/locker room situation is almost a religious experience with esthetically pleasing fixtures and general lack of icky personal detritus. As far as the rest of the amenities, staff make sure there are sufficient wipes, spray bottles, and such to wipe down equipment pre- and post-sweaty activity. That alone would likely be sufficient to slow or completely curtail the spread of plague… if people would actually use it!

Yes… I speak now of the nastiness. Let me preach on it. I have sadly seen it with my own eyes. The nose picker who then grabs the hand-holds of an elliptical machine, the hacking cougher imitating with some skill succumbing to tuberculosis who grabs the free weights with the same hand the recently covered the mouth, and of course the devastating sneeze-monster with accompanying snot who thinks nothing of continuing their bench set with the same hands that received the explosive productions of their nose. None of these individuals actually bothered to wipe down said equipment when they completed their activities, but instead chose to move on and spread their personal colonies of viral agents to yet more unsuspecting equipment and people.

It’s enough to make you gag a little, isn’t it?

I commend these people for pushing through their own pain, discomfort, and lassitude to keep their fitness performance at its best, but please you can take a sick day from your gym routine. In fact, most studies and fitness consultants will tell you gladly that resting and recovering is generally better than trying to ignore a cold or more dire illness. 1) You recover more quickly. 2) You don’t actually share with all the other relatively ailment-free people. Staying home when you are sick is not a show of weakness. It is just good gym-citizenship, and it is a better choice for your own recovery. Now, I get it. I totally do. Not all illnesses have the impact of ague or la grippe. Sometimes, they don’t even seem worthy of notice; an annoyance, no more. If the disease seems minor and you feel that it isn’t even really a hitch in your stride, you don’t want to lose the gains you’ve made in your training. However, keep in mind that there are still the other gym attendees to consider. All the more reason everyone should remember to mind the hygiene and be considerate of others.

And speaking of hygiene… there are other forms of communicable ailments that don’t necessarily have to wait for a season. In this case, I’m speaking of the more delicate matters of fungus. Yeppers, that is right. We’re gonna talk feet and down there. Most of us have heard of athletes’ foot (tinea pedis). Heck, unless you have lived in a cave devoid of any media you have to have seen at least one commercial. Some of them have cute little depictions of demonic creatures that want to live between your toes… ew. Most of these commercials are humorous and entertaining, making the idea of fungal infection a laughing matter rather than a health condition or personal concern. Do not be fooled. This outbreak can cause embarrassment, discomfort, and spread to others (sometimes without even making direct contact). Locker rooms and showers, regardless of cleanliness, are great atmospheres for these types of infections. Moisture from shower and sweat, damp clothing in lockers, and people going around without shoes.

Oh yeah. They do. They go without foot covering or protection in public areas. I’ve seen it. I’m not a foot prude, you understand. I would prefer to go barefoot in most seasons… in my own home, on the beach, in my pool… Not in a public gym locker room or shower! And yet, there she was as I walked in one morning after my own workout, getting ready for work… or errands… or maybe an early morning date… I don’t know. I didn’t ask. I was taken aback by her appearance. She was obviously halfway through some sort of operation to tame her hair (which was drying, recently showered, and taking up what appeared to be more than its usual space), leaning close to the mirror to address eyelashes and eye make up with that contorted expression that seems a prerequisite for the activity… and she was barefoot!!! She stood there with her naked feet in direct contact with the tiles of the bathroom floor, and it was all I could do to restrain the full body shiver as my own very overactive imagination pictured all the little demonic creatures from that commercial swarming over her feet and the surrounding surfaces… and possibly coming after me! I quickly grabbed my kit out of my locker and bounced out to go home for a shower and possibly  chemical decon.

There are, of course, other forms of these fungal outbreaks to plague more than just your tootsies. There is the tinea cruris… You might know it more commonly as “jock itch,” but it doesn’t restrain itself merely to the specific area for which the layman has named it. It likes to be anywhere there is close, damp, warm areas: Thighs, buttocks… and ladies, you are not immune. So, air out the drawers and launder those stanky gym shorts and that sports bra as well (oh yeah, didn’t think of that did you?).

Which brings me to ringworm… which isn’t a worm. Did you know that? Nope, not a fauna, but a flora. This one is a fungus as well. This one is tinea corporis or tinea capitis. Actually the tinea is the actual fungus and the other words are where it decides to take up residence. So, in fact, all these fungi mentioned are the same basic condition, just occurring in various locations on the human body. Depending on where the growth sets up, you can lose hair, have scaly or ring-like patterns, and itch like the devil. It is not fun, and it is contagious. It can go from person to person or person to equipment/floor/shower to person. You get the drift.

The point of all this being: Take some care of yourself and others who share your workout space. Please remember to wipe down surfaces of machines and hand holds. In fact, you might just for caution’s sake wipe down before using the apparatus. Use the sanitary wipes and sprays provided. Don’t leave dirty, damp gym attire in lockers to ferment. And for the love of all that is holy and right in the universe, wear your bloody shower shoes and don’t go barefoot in the locker room! YUCK!

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