Study Finds Unhealthy Air Quality In Gyms

By Dan Peterson, TeamSnap's Sports Science Expert


Gyms and 24-hour fitness centers are popping up all over urban and suburban locations throughout the U.S. Leased spaces in strip malls, repurposed older buildings and new construction have all hosted spaces where dozens of people occupy a small space to crank up their aerobic activity while also creating significantly more carbon dioxide. There is an assumption that this increased breathing rate can only be good for our health, provided that the air we take in is relatively free of pollutants.

Or maybe not, says Carla Ramos, a graduate student at the University of Lisbon. She decided to check the indoor air quality (IAQ) of 11 urban fitness centers in Lisbon, very similar to ones found in the U.S. During the late afternoon and evenings, when the gyms were the most full, air monitor equipment was placed around the facilities to check for common air pollutants, including PM10, PM2.5, CO2, CO, CH2O and VOC.

What Ramos found was surprising. Higher than normal levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), formaldehyde (CH2O) and volatile organic compounds (dust) were found in most of the fitness centers, while ozone and carbon monoxide levels were within normal ranges. Most of the centers had closed heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, where windows were not able to be opened for fresh air. 

Ramos concluded that these health centers, as well as many more, need to improve their ventilation rates and filtering systems.

“Taking into account the unique characteristics of the fitness centers—intense indoor activities, large number of people who are more susceptible to air pollutants during exercise, insufficient ventilation and relatively small room sizes—there is a need to better assess the exposure and inhaled doses by gyms practitioners in order to minimize adverse health effects and to potentiate the benefits of the physical activity,” said Ramos.

What about your gym? Chances are if you’re in an older building, near heavy traffic, and/or in a space that was previously occupied with dusty or industrial products, the IAQ may not be ideal.  Ramos recommends asking the staff at your gym about air quality and any recent assessments.

Of course, if you’ve had enough of the stale air, flourescent lighting and crowds, there is plenty of cold but fresh oxygen out on the trail. Bundle up and get out there!

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Dan Peterson is a recovering sports dad who is fascinated with sports science research, skill development and the athlete’s brain. He has written over 400 science-based articles across the Web and consults with parents, coaches and young players to help them understand the cognitive side of sports. You can visit him at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental and at @DanielPeterson.

Release Date: Oct 10 2016

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