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The Hidden Exercise Risk No One Talks About

By , Dana Gore, Certified Personal Trainer
I thought I knew a thing or two about diet and exercise. For example, I knew how to do a squat, and that avoiding carbs altogether wasn’t necessarily a wise thing to do.

Then I enrolled in personal training school and realized just how much I didn’t know.
To be perfectly honest, I had never really given any thought to the subject of exercise safety – and it took getting a formal education to bring it to my awareness.

When you want to lose weight and get in shape, you focus on the important things: what foods to eat, which fitness program to follow and how to balance your calories in vs. calories out. Of course these factors are normal and helpful, but when it comes to exercise—an activity designed to bring you optimal health and well-being—there are hidden dangers lurking beneath the surface if you aren't paying attention.

One of those hidden dangers is the act of chewing gum during exercise.

When you work out, you breathe harder, heavier and faster than normal—and often through the mouth.  If you are engaging in high-intensity exercises, as many of the popular weight-loss programs have been promoting within the last couple of years, then there is a pretty good chance that you are breathing quite heavily during your workout.

Now imagine that you are exercising with a piece of gum in your mouth and suddenly, without warning, it gets lodged in your throat and you begin to choke.

Would you be able to do something about this? If you were alone, the chances are pretty slim. If you were at a fitness facility, you would have to depend on the gym staff to know how to administer the appropriate protocol to try to save your life.
I know it isn’t a pleasant thought, and I’m not trying to scare you.

But since many of the gyms out there don’t necessarily require their staff to know the lifesaving techniques required to remove this foreign object that is blocking your airway, you may or may not survive the incident.

And if you were lucky enough to have someone around who knew how to perform the abdominal thrusts in an effort to remove the objects that people normally choke on (such as food or candy), it’s important to understand that choking on gum is an entirely different situation.

Since gum is flexible in texture, it tends to mold itself to fit perfectly in the airway once it gets stuck. This means that not only is it more challenging to expel gum even if the correct technique is applied by a qualified rescuer, but that there really are no guarantees that it will work.

And the longer the gum remains stuck in the airway, the longer the brain is deprived of oxygen, the effects of which can range from mild to severe. So if you do happen to survive the incident, you may or may not have lasting consequences to deal with, such as brain damage, reduced cognitive abilities or memory and problems with attention span. This is a risk you can easily avoid.

The truth is: If someone is capable of choking on his or her food while calmly sitting and dining (and this happens frequently), then it’s definitely possible that it can happen during exercise. I cannot tell you how often this habit is overlooked, which is why I am bringing it to your attention.

I certainly didn’t know, and would have remained unaware if it hadn’t been intentionally brought up one evening in class. In fact, during this particular lecture on the dangers of chewing gum while exercising, Dr. Abbott (the president and chief instructor of the school) informed us that while discussing this topic in the past, three of his students admitted to having witnessed someone choke on their gum while working out in the gym--and all three died.

If you happen to like having something around to help cope with the effects of a dry mouth that exercise sometimes causes, then a helpful suggestion is to keep some cold and refreshing lemon water around while you work out, and then enjoy your gum after your workout once your breathing has returned to normal.

Considering that this isn’t a common topic of discussion, I felt it was my responsibility to make sure that others had access to this lifesaving advice as well.
So given that healthy-living is the overall goal, doesn’t it make sense to be well informed about the possible hidden risks of your fitness program? I think so.  The knowledge that makes it possible to make wise, informed and deliberate decisions in an effort to live our best lives is a precious gift.

Are you guilty of chewing gum during your workouts? Have you ever had a close call because of it?

About The Author
Creator of and author of the book "A Simple Guide to Exercise Safety: What You Don't Know CAN Hurt You," Dana Gore completed the curriculum at Fitness Institute International, Inc. as an outstanding graduate in 2009.

Dana brings guidance to the public about how to achieve optimal health in a safe and structured manner. She believes that the body follows the guidance and instruction of the mind and spirit while inspiring her readers to seek self-awareness and inner peace as a means to well-being in all areas of life.

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RO2BENT 4/9/2020
No way, not me Report
ROBINRS 4/4/2020
interesting. Had never thought of this. Report
thanks Report
CD25342329 1/17/2020
Wow--did not know that...fortunately I never chew gum but if I see someone chewing gum, I let them know the danger...thanks... Report
PATRICIAAK 11/24/2019
good point Report
POSEY440 11/19/2019
Great information
KHALIA2 11/16/2019
Thanks! Report
MARYGOLD5 8/3/2019
Great information. Thanks. Report
JERICHO1991 7/29/2019
No gum during my workouts. Thanks for the reminder. Report
BORDERJACK 7/27/2019
I did the heimlich on a gal at a party because no one else noticed she was choking. Instead of thanking me she said it happens all the time. My point is why take a chance when exercising to have anything in your mouth whether it be hard candy or gum? Report
ONLYME33 7/25/2019
Important to Know-makes sense with or without death/frequency statistics* Report
FRABBIT 7/24/2019
Wow - I never thought of that at all. Very informative. Report
TERMITEMOM 7/24/2019
Our gym has posters explaining that chewing gum is very dangerous and therefore not allowed. This is scary stuff. Report
MRPEABODY 7/24/2019
Thank you! Report
Thanks I’m glad I gave up gum chewing a long time ago Report
FRAN0426 7/24/2019
Good thing I gave up chewing gum, but years ago I did chew gum while at the gym----thankfully that doesn't happen any more. That is dangerous and never thought about the danger before reading this article. Report
MSROZZIE 7/24/2019
Thanks, good need-to-know information! Report
OMG I had NO idea! I have taken several first aid and CPR classes and nobody has ever talked about the dangers of gum!!! i never pay it any mind when i am chewing gum- but will be absolutely certain never to chew it while working out or performing any physical activity now! Report
SHOAPIE 7/24/2019
Interesting article. Report
EBEARDSLEE21 7/24/2019
interesting Report
SPINECCO 7/24/2019
Great information. Thanks. Report
HOLLYM48 7/24/2019
Great article! Report
PLCHAPPELL 7/24/2019
Good point Report
SPARKLEMEUP17 7/24/2019
Wow-I'm sure you have saved lives here with this article-mine included. Never gave this a second thought. I don't chew gum but I do carry hard candy when I exercise and I'm very aware of choking-Thanks! Report
ALLISONMEG 7/24/2019
Very interesting Report
FRAN0426 6/8/2019
When I first started working out, years ago. I chewed gum. Then one day I thought maybe this isn't the best thing to do while exercising. Started carrying a container with water. It actually worked out better as the water would be cold and not warm like the gum. Report
Great Article Report
Thanks Report
I don't chew doing my workouts. Report
Gum is a nono in most gyms. I have bern guilty of chewing it in the past, but not until after my shower snd I’m out the door. It is hard to convince some people it looks pretty bad though I kniw dome guns are made fir dry mouth and can help a lot. Report
Interesting article. Report
There's a spray you can get for dry mouth. Also, you can suck on a dry mouth lozenge before you exercise. (Finish before you start.) Either thing should help you get your mouth moistened enough to be able to do your workout to completion.

Some people like to drink water while they workout, but I don't. Here's why, I choke on water! And you might too. If you actually DO have dry mouth, you might also choke on water. It's a thing that's very common with dry mouth sufferers. Report
Wow! I don't chew gum, but I work at a gym and some of our clients do. I will bring this article to my bosses attention, and we will be putting up signs about this. ASAP. I did have a client complain about the gum chewer, but never really did anything about it. Now I will. Thank you. Report
Great and common sense info! Report
Glad I don't usually chew gum. Report
Thank you SPARK PEOPLE, I often chew gum while I work out. This article could save my life. Always, find so much important info in your articles. Report
I was very surprised at finding the article was about gum chewing. Am not a gum chewer. Think it is something that promotes thoughtless rudeness. Chomping in public or talking to someone. This is something once known should be practiced. Will bring this up to staff at gym that I attend. Thanks so much for caring enough to share this. It does need to get out to people. Report
Anyone who disagrees with this is clearly not thinking it through. Obviously, you have not choked to death on the gum you are chewing while you exercise.... yet. If changing one little thing--a change which has which has no negative consequences--might potentially save your life, would you not do it?

Chewing gum also prevents you from drinking as often as you should be during exercise. I saw more than one person on here say they chew gum to prevent themselves from getting thirsty--this is definitely a fools errand. There is a very good reason you are getting thirsty--you *need* to hydrate during exercise, and if you don't, you increase potential for cramping, which to (for example) a trail runner, can spell disaster.

I'll also just leave this here for your reading enjoyment:
ng-gum-side-effects.aspx Report
I ALWAYS chew gum when I work out! It prevents me from having a dry mouth. I make a point of chewing gum. I've never swallowed the gum or anything and I am 70 years old. I drink water and chew gum. Now you are scaring me! Report
I seldom chew gum and if I did it would be in private. I just think it is disgusting to see someone chewing away on someting. Report
i agree I never chew gum for that reason. besides it a bad habit reminds me of a cow chewing on it cud . I also never go to the gym unless some is there. a man died of heart attach being alone in the gym working out . Report
Thank you Report
I gave up chewing gum shortly after I retired! Report
I disagree with his article. I would like proof of the death claims. I find it a poor decision to actually publish this article. I have chewed gum for years as a long distance runner. I actually pocket it in my cheek and when it is used up I warp it in a tissue put in my running belt and get a fresh piece. SparkPeople please refrain from this type of articles that does not show proof of claims made. Report
Good to know! Report
I never thought of chewing gum while working out. I usually just chew minty, sugarless gum after meals (freshens breath and help remove any food stuck between teeth). Still, it's good to know, thank you. (FYI: "Mentos Pure Fresh with Green Tea Extract" lasts a long time!) Report
Thank you for this article, I, too, am guilty of chewing gum while working out. I’ll just have to rely on water as I do have terrible dry mouth because of medications. Report
Thanks for the great article. Report
Guilty, but small enough to spit it out quickly. Not doing it again. Report
Never thought about it! I certainly won’t do it! Report