While choosing a Pilates trainer is an important task, choosing the right studio is also critical. The best studios or gyms are clean and well-maintained, but it pays to be aware of some of the potential dangers that shared exercise facilities might pose.
By the nature of their construction, gyms and Pilates studios may be difficult to heat. Large, open rooms and high ceilings allow heat to dissipate easily, so large or sophisticated HVAC (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning) systems and heavy insulation may be required to regulate the temperature. If the building was constructed prior to the 1980s, the ducts, pipe coverings, insulation, even the walls and floor might contain asbestos, a thread-like mineral once widely used for its heat-resistant properties.
As long as these building materials are intact, they do not pose a hazard, but if they become broken and damaged, they can release asbestos fibers into the air. Once these fibers are inhaled, they can cause serious health problems including a rare and fatal form of cancer called mesothelioma. Unfortunately, symptoms of mesothelioma are often confused with those of less threatening conditions until the cancer has advanced into its final stages, making it difficult to treat.
Skin infections can be another hazard of Pilates studios. Staphylococcus bacteria thrive in warm, wet places on the body such as the buttocks, armpits, groin, and neck, but can also survive on the dry surfaces of Pilates mats and other equipment. Many strains of this type of bacteria are relatively harmless, though some may cause serious problems if the infection gets into the bloodstream. The gravest threat is posed by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can be deadly if it enters the blood through any small break in the skin. As its name implies, this bacterium is so deadly because it is resistant to all but a very few types of antibiotics and may even develop resistance to these if they are overused.
While mesothelioma life expectancy is very low and MRSA infections cause more deaths than any other infectious disease tracked by the CDC, there are simple precautions that can greatly lessen your risk for these diseases. Look around to make sure your studio’s walls, floors, and ventilation systems are in good condition. If the building is being renovated, ask whether the construction materials have been tested for asbestos. If you are still concerned, consider trying another studio or doing whatever exercises you can at home until the renovations are complete.
Even if you take a mat-only class, you will likely need to use some of the studio’s own equipment. The CDC recommends thoroughly cleaning shared exercise equipment both before and after using it. Many studios will provide disinfectant sprays or wipes for this purpose. If your studio does not, ask the staff or bring your own wipes. Alcohol is an effective sanitizer, even against MRSA, and the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers will not contribute to the drug-resistance of the bacteria. Be sure to cover all cuts or skin abrasions when working out and clean them well when you are finished. Any redness, swelling, or tenderness of the skin, especially around a pre-existing wound, should be examined by a doctor.
These risks should not distract you from your usual Pilates workout, but a few simple precautions can prevent some serious health problems later on.