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Working out at the gym? You may need to check the air quality

Hitting the gym is a cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle for many. But as you’re focusing on reps and cardio, have you ever considered what’s in the air you’re breathing?

A recent study led by Professor Yele Sun from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences delves into this question, revealing some surprising findings about the air quality in a typical basement gym. The study highlights potential health concerns for gym-goers.

Gym air quality

Professor Sun and his team’s decision to investigate gym air quality stemmed from their firsthand experiences exercising in a basement gym.

“Thinking back to the pandemic, my colleagues and I made a point of hitting the gym in our institute’s basement more often,” said Professor Sun. “Couldn’t help but wonder what the air quality would be like with everyone breaking a sweat down there.”

The team’s primary goal was to gain a comprehensive understanding of the types and amounts of air pollutants present within the gym setting.

Their core research strategy involved a direct comparison between the air quality inside the gym and that of outdoor air samples. This comparative approach would allow them to identify any significant differences in pollutant composition and concentration between the two environments.

Organic aerosols impact gym air quality

The study revealed that the gym’s air contained a significantly higher percentage of organic aerosols (OA) than outdoor air. These microscopic particles, composed of organic compounds, made up about 50% of the gym’s indoor air content, compared to around 40% outside.

The finding suggests that exercising in the gym exposes individuals to a higher concentration of organic aerosols than being outdoors.

The researchers identified two specific types of organic aerosols that were notably elevated within the gym’s atmosphere:

Siloxane OA (SiOA): These particles are believed to come from lubricants used to maintain gym equipment. The study found that SiOA levels sometimes reached as high as 6 micrograms per cubic meter of air. This indicates that gym equipment might be releasing tiny, potentially harmful particles into the air as people exercise.

Cigarette Smoke OA (CSOA): Despite the gym’s strict no-smoking policy, traces of cigarette smoke were detected in the gym’s air. Researchers believe these particles are likely transported from outdoor sources through the ventilation system. This means even non-smokers could be inhaling cigarette smoke particles while working out.

What does this mean for gym enthusiasts?

The discovery of these pollutants in gym air underscores a possible downside associated with exercising indoors. Although regular physical activity undoubtedly provides numerous health advantages, the act of inhaling these particles, particularly during the accelerated breathing that accompanies exercise, raises concerns about potential negative health effects.

Further research is crucial to determine the precise long-term impact of exposure to pollutants within the gym environment. It is vital to recognize that air quality across different gyms will not be consistent.

Several factors play a significant role in determining the overall concentration of pollutants within the air of a gym. These include the specific types of equipment present, the number of individuals exercising at the same time, and the efficiency of the facility’s ventilation system.

Minimizing the risks from gym air

While the results of the study highlight a need for awareness, it’s crucial to remember the importance of maintaining an active lifestyle. Here are some strategies to help balance workouts with gym air quality concerns:

Gym selection

If you have the option, choose gyms recognized for having effective ventilation systems. When weather permits, incorporating outdoor workouts into your routine can be a great way to directly minimize exposure to indoor pollutants.

Timing your workouts

Whenever possible, aim to exercise at your gym during less crowded hours. This can help reduce the overall concentration of airborne particles within the space.

Air quality management in gym

Engage in open communication with the management of your gym about your air quality concerns. Express the importance of regular equipment maintenance and advocate for exploring potential improvements to their ventilation systems.

The study sheds light on an often-overlooked aspect of gym environments. It highlights the importance of awareness and the potential for gyms to improve air quality for their patrons.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.


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