Most of us visit gyms and fitness centers to get healthy, but not all these facilities are as “healthy” as they could be. Every time a member gasps for breath during a workout, they increase indoor pollution. Those panting breaths after a solid HIIT session eject viruses, bacteria and gasses into a confined workout chamber where they are circulated and inhaled by others.
When you get enough hard-breathing bodies doing burpees in the same space, you can create abnormally high levels of air pollution in a gym. Couple this with a few intrinsic characteristics of gym facilities and you get a drastic impact on indoor air quality.
Dust, Droplets and VOCs… Oh My!
Gyms are notorious for having high levels of indoor air pollutants simply because of the activities that go on behind their doors. When people are actively moving in a smaller space, there are three main things that are expelled into the air: dust, respiratory droplets and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Dust, sometimes in particles so small that you can’t see, is constantly stirred up when you have people moving weights, using exercise towels, and actively exercising in the space. The constant motion in a gym prevents dust from settling – it stays in the air. Since much of this dust comes from towels, shoes and clothes brought in with members, it’s impossible to avoid.
Respiratory droplets are a huge contaminant to gym air1. These droplets are microscopic particles suspended in a mist that comes directly from our lungs. The problem with these droplets is that they are the perfect carrier for all sort of viruses, namely COVID, the common cold and the flu. Because they are so light, they can stay in the air for hours and travel long distances much farther than 6 feet.
The average person at rest breathes out 500 droplets per minute. However, when we exercise at our maximum potential, that number soars over 130-fold to above 76,000 droplets per minute2. Imagine the droplets floating through the air during a spin class or in a room filled with boot-campers. The more droplets, the higher the risk of illness outbreak.
VOCs are another air pollutant commonly found in gyms. These chemical contaminants exist as gasses and can make you tired and unfocused – things you do not want to feel while working out. Studies have shown that formaldehyde and acetone are common VOCs expelled during exercise. Even worse, these noxious gasses are expelled at concentrations that exceed most acceptable standards for indoor air quality1,3. VOCs are also a culprit in gyms that have strong odor issues.
A Chemical Cocktail
In addition to breathing harder, exercisers also emit more chemicals from their sweat. In fact, one sweaty person emits as many chemicals as five sedentary people2. Besides smelling bad, these chemicals react with cleaners and bleach to form a “chemical cocktail” of sorts – new airborne compounds that are even worse for indoor air quality.
Imagine one gym member uses an exercise machine and then wipes it down with a disinfectant. When the next person uses that machine, the cleaning product and sweat mix together and release into the surrounding air. Now, factor in the heavy breathing happening throughout the gym. This means that you are much more likely to inhale these chemicals because you are breathing at a faster rate.
The Building Itself
Think about common gyms – they oftentimes include saunas, swimming pools, and shower areas. These amenities all increase humidity, adding moisture to the air, which can lead to mold. Mold is a well-known health hazard and can exist in the tiniest of spaces. Breathing in mold spores can cause asthma attacks, allergic reactions and shortness of breath. Again, these are not conducive to a good workout. Like VOCs, mold can be an odor culprit as well.
Many gyms also have poor ventilation due to HVAC systems that were not appropriately designed or aren’t functioning properly. To provide proper ventilation, an HVAC system needs to completely change the air in a building 4 times per hour, but many systems can only handle changes of 1-2 times per hour. However, overhauling an HVAC system is expensive, time consuming, and usually unrealistic. It is therefore more cost effective to seek other ways to increase air changes per hour.
The Bottom Line
Your clients are coming to your business because they want to improve their wellbeing through exercise. As health-conscious individuals, they will not overlook poor air quality that affects their workout and puts their body at risk.
Improving your indoor air quality through a ScentAir air purification system helps with things like facility cleanliness, member and staff protection and odor removal. No matter what size, space or budget, we have a solution to help gyms improve member retention rates, increase member satisfaction and improve daily attendance without overhauling your HVAC system.
1 Finewax Z. Pagonis D. Claflin MS. Handschy AV. Brown WL. Jenks O. Nault BA. Day DA. Lerner BM. Jimenex JL. Ziemann PJ. De Gouw JA. (2020) Quantification and source characterization of volatile organic compounds from exercising and application of chlorine-based cleaning products in a university athletic center. International Journal of Indoor Environment and Health (31(5), pp. 1323-1339.
2 Mutsch B. Heiber M. Gratz F. Wackerhage H. (2022) Aerosol particle emission increases exponentially above moderate exercise intensity resulting in superemission during maximal exercise. Engineering 119(22).
3 Ramos CA. Wolterbeek HT. Almeida SM. (2014) Exposure to indoor air pollutants during physical activity in fitness centers. Building and Environment 82, pp. 349-360.