Workout equipment isn't the only source of pollution at the gym. You may be breathing in seriously dirty air
Next time your yoga teacher tells you to take a "deep, cleansing breath" you may want to rethink that—not the breathing part (please don't stop breathing!) but the cleansing part. Gym air is definitely not clean air, according to a new study.
Researchers from Portugal and Holland placed air quality monitors in gyms all over Lisbon and looked at the indoor environments. They measured levels of dangerous gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and ozone; airborne particulates such as dust; and various chemicals released by carpeting, cleaning products, furniture or paint, including formaldehyde. They collected readings over the course of a month, focusing on the times of day when the gyms were particularly busy like the evening after-work rush.
What they found will make you want to hold your breath during your next weight set, no matter what your trainer says: high levels of pollutants that exceeded all the safety standards for indoor air quality. Airborne dust was the biggest culprit as researchers said people stirred up dirt and debris as they moved vigorously. Formaldehyde (yes, the same formaldehyde preservative that was in the jar with that pig you dissected in high school and still have nightmares about) was also found in very high amounts. (And your gym isn't the only dirty place you hang out. Check out these 5 Places Mold Grows in Your Home.)
However, the biggest surprise were the high levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) which were so high precisely because of all that healthy exercising going on. The effect is compounded by the large number of people breathing in confined spaces like aerobics studios. CO2 on its own can cause fatigue, light-headedness, and foggy thinking but working out magnifies the detrimental effects, says Carla Ramos, the lead author of the study. “When we exercise, we take in more air with each breath and most of that air goes through the mouth, bypassing the natural filtration system in the nostrils. The pollutants go deeper into the lungs compared to resting situations.”
But no one is telling you to stop exercising and with cold weather here, working out indoors is the only option for many people. Rather, Ramos says this should be a wake-up call for the fitness industry to make sure gyms are properly ventilated and cleaned so that clients have a safe space that will help them achieve their healthy goals. If you're worried about your gym, have a chat with the manager about ways to improve air circulation and cleaning.