Weights and a workout mat COVID-19 has changed the way many Americans exercise. No longer able or willing to access public or private gyms, more families purchased exercise equipment – treadmills and stationary bikes, primarily – to keep fit at home. While the trend to home-based exercise equipment has proven to be more convenient for some parents, it has also been a source of worry. How can parents keep these machines away from curious children?

The dangers of home exercise equipment made headlines in 2009 when Mike Tyson’s 4-year-old daughter tragically died in a treadmill accident. While studies have shown the most common injuries sustained by young children (age 4 and younger) from mechanical home exercise equipment are lacerations and soft tissue injuries, there are always exceptions and far worse consequences. Another study of home exercise equipment-related injuries showed more than 75% of injuries were associated with stationary bicycles, treadmills and jump ropes.

And it’s not just infants and toddlers who are being injured. More than 70% of children injured in home exercise equipment-related mishaps were younger than age 10. Older children and teens can also be injured trying to use the machines without fully knowing how to do so safely.

Home gym safety

So how can you keep your children safe around a home gym? Prevent Child Injury, a project funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, launched a new toolkit on home exercise equipment safety earlier this year with targeted tips to help parents better protect their families around home exercise equipment.

To reduce injury around your home gym:

  • Separate your workout space. Restrict access to your home exercise equipment by placing it in a closed room with a door, putting up a gate in front of an open doorway, or erecting a baby gate around the equipment itself.
  • Keep your children busy while you exercise. Set up a play space that you can see while you work out. Fill the space with games, toys and other age-appropriate things your children enjoy.
  • Never leave exercise equipment plugged in or on while unattended. Need a break during your workout to use the restroom or get some water? Always turn the machine off, unplug it, lock it if possible, and take the key/cord with you.
  • Use safety devices. Most home exercise equipment has some safety guards – keys, locks, pins, security codes, etc. – to prevent accidental use or injury by children and allow you to quickly stop the machine if needed. Follow manufacturers’ directions and use all safety devices as directed. When not using the equipment, safely store cords/keys/pins in a location where a child cannot easily access them.
  • Keep cords tidy and away from children. Electrical cords and outlets are another danger to curious children. To avoid any chance of choking, strangulation or shock, keep all cords safely secured and not dangling.
  • Position exercise equipment towards the room’s entrance so you can see anyone who approaches. This is particularly important if you use earphones or listen to music while working out.
  • Clean up. After every workout, be sure to unplug treadmills, stationary bikes, ellipticals and other electronic equipment. Put away any weights or resistance bands. If possible, close, fold or lock equipment so it cannot be easily accessed by children.
  • Educate and train. When your children are old enough to start using the equipment, teach them how to properly and safely use each machine. Supervise them until they show they can safely use the equipment – and keep younger siblings a safe distance away. Make it clear when they are allowed to use the equipment (i.e., while you are in the same area of the house, when you are at home, etc.)

When to seek help

While many home exercise equipment injuries are minor, serious accidents do occur. When in doubt, call your child’s pediatrician and head to your local Emergency Department or Urgent Care Center.

Patty Huang, MD, is a developmental pediatrician in the Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics and the Autism Integrated Care Program, a senior fellow at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and moderator of the Research in Action blog on the Center for Injury Research & Prevention website.

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