IAQ at gyms can turn treadmill to dreadmill
I don’t know about you, but when the temperature is too cold outside, the last thing I want to do is exercise in it. The air burns the lungs. Appendages get numb, with the ironic side effect that every little injury hurts worse. And it seems that no matter how hard I try to properly layer, I end up freezing regardless or else drenched in sweat.
Nope. As boring as working out in a gym can be, I’ll take the comfort of a cozy weight room or a treadmill that looks out over the barren landscape but in no way connects with its frigidness.
But—surprise, surprise—working out in a gym can expose you to something that may not be uncomfortable but is certainly potentially harmful: Poor indoor air quality.
We’ve discussed in previous posts the irony regarding air pollutants: outdoor air actually can be better for you than indoor air. The reason? Poor ventilation. Energy efficiency often comes at the expense of stale air/fresh air exchange. What happens indoors stays indoors, to paraphrase the famous Las Vegas slogan.
Two factors make indoor air quality at gyms especially worrisome. First, chemicals used to make weight equipment, mats and more can shed uniquely harmful toxins. Second, working out usually entails higher rates of breathing, and deeper breaths.
Your muscles and waistline may thank you. Your lungs, not so much.
From a story published Nov. 10, 2014, by The Sydney Morning Herald:
Researchers from the University of Lisbon in Portugal and the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands placed air-quality monitors in the weight room of 11 gyms, as well as several of the gyms' exercise and yoga studios.
The monitors measured the levels of carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), dust particles and chemicals like formaldehyde (CH2O).
The gyms showed high levels of airborne dust, formaldehyde and carbon dioxide, which can lead to asthma and other respiratory problems.
"We consider that the gymnasiums meet the criteria for a poor indoor quality," said Carla Ramos, the lead author of the paper, due to be published in in the journal Building and Environment.
"The pollutants CO2, VOC and CH2O presented high concentrations exceeding the national limit values."
The pollutants were particularly high during peak exercise times when dust and other particles were stirred up and all the gym-goers were huffing and puffing and producing more carbon dioxide.
All that said, working out certainly remains better for you overall than the sedentary, hibernating alternatives. But it wouldn’t hurt to ask about the kinds of chemicals the gyms use to clean their equipment, whether they vacuum frequently with the best filtration systems, and what ventilation equipment they use.
Would I ever ask these questions myself? Maybe. Maybe not. Ultimately, my biggest hurdle is the most common one: getting myself to the gym in the first place.
Ken Nelson Ken Nelson is the Northwest Regional Sales Manager for the Panasonic Eco Products Division, specializing in ventilation solutions for residential and multi-family living environments. Over the past four years, Ken has spoken throughout the Northwest, teaching and training builders, building science advocates and professionals on the physics of moisture and air movement in homes of all sizes, types and age.