SparkPeople Blogs  •  fitness  •  health

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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AUNA_VISTA 10/10/2018
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
KHALIA2 8/30/2018
Great and common sense info! Report
Glad I don't usually chew gum. Report
PAULA3420 7/26/2018
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
KATHRYNGC 7/25/2018
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
MATTCA 7/25/2018
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
PWILLOW1 7/24/2018
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
SPARKFRAN514 7/24/2018
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
MBPP50 7/24/2018
Thank you Report
SUSIEMT 7/24/2018
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
DGRIFFITH51 7/24/2018
Good to know! Report
CKOUDSI617 7/24/2018
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
GOOZLEBEAR 7/24/2018
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
NANAW12001 7/24/2018
Thanks for the great article. Report
PATRICIA-CR 7/24/2018
Guilty, but small enough to spit it out quickly. Not doing it again. Report
JUDY1676 7/19/2018
Never thought about it! I certainly won’t do it! Report
SUNSET09 6/10/2018
I used to chew gum as well and stopped so this is no issue for me however, I do work out and this will make me more mindful of those around me. Thanx for the eye opener. One death is one too many. Report
SUNSET09 6/10/2018
I used to chew gum as well and stopped so this is no issue for me however, I do work out and this will make me more mindful of those around me. Thanx for the eye opener. One death is one too many. Report
Ty Report
KHALIA2 4/16/2018
I am guilty of this one, but after reading your article, I will not do it again. Thank you! Report
DJ4HEALTH 2/21/2018
Good info Report
Wow. I wouldn't chew gum while doing anything strenuous, and don't like a piece of gum in my mouth for longer than a few minutes, but had no idea others might chew gum while training! Yikes! Report
I coach a dance team, and the girls always get irritated that they're not allowed to have gum during practice. To me it's a no brainer as to why you shouldn't be chewing gum while exerting yourself, especially during a dance like a kick routine which is pretty intense, but I'm surprised every year when someone asks, "Why can't I chew gum during practice?" Report
Thanks for the reminder! Report
Not much of a gum chewer. My dad disapproved of it, so never got the habit. Report
Good reminder worth remembering! Report
All mankind love a lover.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Report
I've never have chewed gum while exercising, and now I'll never try it. Very informative, I am going to pass it on to others! Report
I had to give up gum years ago because it aggravated TMJ on the left side of my jaw. And as I get older, I really hate seeing gum chewing in public places because it makes communication difficult...I'm deaf and a lip-reader. Trying to lipread someone chewing their gum kinda looks like watching a cow chewing their dinner!! Not very pretty!! But gum is one of the hazards that has been mentioned over the many years that I have taken and re-certified in CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and Heimlich maneuvers, etc. Report
WOW! A very good thing to know! Thanks for posting this! Report
Never thought about the gum. Report
If you haven't exercised in a while, there are other really dangerous moves, you don't even consider dangerous. Standing on your head or having your head lower than your knees can bring up the pressure in your eyes and people with Glaucoma or even controlled high intra eye pressure can be at risk and should avoid any exercise that gets the head lower than the knees. Pole-dancing, yoga, some Pilates exercises. The teacher should know your medical condition or at least YOU should. Report
Worthwhile Read!! I'm not a gum chewer, but have seen others in the gym indulging. And a take off from your article: its probably a good thing to ask what level of training the Gym Staff have!! (I know the YMCA I attend has capable staff. Besides the Gym director, there are LifeGuards full time there.) Also check: does your gym have an AED available...and do YOU know how to use it?! Its very easy to your Fire Dept. or Red Cross. Report
I admit, I never thought of this one. But, makes perfect sense. Report
I have never thought to chew gum while working out. I always try to have a bottle of water close by. Report
Very informative! Report
Chewing gum is one my best diet tricks--I chew it every time I feel the need to eat, so I can stop those binging urges! However, I have NEVER chewed it while working out...I guess instinctively I knew it was a bad idea. Report
Good thing I don't chew gum anymore. Report
Weirdly this is true. There are lots of stories about people dying after swallowing gum while exercising alone... Report
who would of thought Report
This is a good thing to know. I like chewing gum, but I will not do it while exercising. I'm also going to tell my nephews, since they do all kinds of sports at school. Thanks! Report
Why would you be chewing gum while exercising anyway? This seems like common sense. Report
Do not chewvgum, but this makes sense. Report
I have always chewed gum while working out. I have read this article many times. I do keep in mine I am chewing gum and make sure I am careful. If I didn't chew gum, my lips would be dried out and I would find myself very thirsty. I do keep a bottle of water on me at all times. But if you are out walking a trail, water is not easily available. Just be careful and always exercise where there are people close.
I use to chew gum all the time, then all of a sudden I simply stopped chewing gum. Not sure why, but good to know that I don't have to worry about it since I no longer chew gum. Report
Don't chew gum while exercising! Report
I never chew gum. Gave it up years ago. Disgusting habit. Report