Don’t Sweat It: What Are You Breathing in at the Gym?

Bad weather and polluted air can drive you to workout inside at the gym. But between deep breaths and reps, how clean is the air you’re breathing?

Exercising outdoors has often been the topic of conversation in regards to the affect air pollution has on those sensitive to allergens. The air breathed during outdoor exercise is usually through your mouth, bypassing the natural filter known as your nasal passages. While you can monitor air pollution levels by way of the local air quality index, Mayo Clinic states that “during aerobic activity you typically inhale more air, and you breathe it more deeply into your lungs.”

This deep breathing can worsen existing upper respiratory conditions like asthma and make it difficult for people with heart or lung diseases like cystic fibrosis. In an effort to make a smart choice to avoid outdoor air pollution, you move inside to work out. But what is swirling around in the air when you work out at the gym?

Airborne pathogens

Medline Plus (a service of the United States National Institute of Health) reports that when you cough or sneeze, germs are sent into the air making hygiene of the utmost importance, especially if you are under the weather and out in public. The common cold and flu viruses are spread this way, entering the respiratory symptom through the mouth and nose.

Additionally, the University of North Carolina states that the droplets that can be expelled from a sick person are different from airborne particles as they are heavier and quickly connect with surfaces up to 3 feet. The diseases spread from droplets can include meningitis and pertussis (whooping cough).

Solution: Cover your mouth when you cough, carry a hand sanitizer with you while you work out, and avoid touching your face. Or, consider skipping the gym when you’re under the weather to give your body time to heal and prevent others from getting sick.


A fungi that reproduces by making spores, mold loves to hang out in the sauna, warm and humid environments. If you are spending a considerable amount of time relaxing in a sauna, or warm gym in the winter, you could be inadvertently exposing yourself to mold.  Those sensitive or allergic to mold are at a higher risk of experiencing symptoms of nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, shortness of breath, wheezing, or skin irritation.

Solution: As beneficial as the sauna is, if you have upper respiratory sensitivities or you are allergic to mold, steer clear of a hot steam bath.

Before you join a gym, take a good look around. Are the bathrooms spotless? Do you see employees walking around cleaning machines with more than just a dry towel? Sweaty gym equipment and dirty bathrooms are a breeding ground for bacteria like streptococcus (upper respiratory infections, strep throat), candida (athlete’s foot, ringworm), and staphylococcus aureus (rash and boils on the skin).

Don’t be afraid to ask employees about their cleaning and maintenance process or if they might consider using humidifiers and purifiers like the Venta Airwasher so you can make sure to breath clean air while you’re working out. If they can’t answer your questions, opt to find another gym.