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.

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


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
I used to always chew gum whilst playing tennis, but luckily stopped before I read this article, now I know why very informative. Report
There is a woman in my aqua aerobics class who chews gum. She's been told this isn't allowed in the pool, so now instead of chewing on it she just stashes it in her cheek and only gives it a chew every once in a while. I don't understand why you'd take the risk. Report
If bubblegum lodges in your windpipe you would blow a big bubble when you tried to breathe out.

I would say nothing in your mouth when you exercise, depending on the type of exercise. I make it a point not to have anything in my mouth when I practice karate, and when I lift weights, since some of the time I'm laying on my back. Report
And remember to not chew gum or eat candy if you are on a ride at the amusement park. People have died while doing this. Report
I choked on a piece of gum while playing volleyball. It was an incredibly scary experience, people were standing and staring but nobody seemed to realize I was choking so no one tried to help. I was able to cough it up eventually, but it was one the most frightening things I've been through. It happened over 25 years ago while I was in high school but I remember it like it was yesterday. Report
I usually chew gum while exercising, but now I am not tempted to do it at all, ever again!! Holy crap! I usually exercise alone too. Thank you for this potentially life-saving info! Report
That's why the old joke about someone not being "able to walk and chew gum" are still around!! I have seen people choke while walking and chewing gum! To the dummy who doesn't believe it can happen in the gym, someone should kick you in the butt, I assume you can keep your gum in your mouth while that happens to you, with no circumstance.... Report
I had chewed gum in the past while lifting weighs but the gum was small so it was never a problem if I swallowed it. I used to place it under my tongue on heavy exercise or spitted it out. I could see a choking problem with a size of bubble gum. Report
In all my years of going to the gym, I don't remember anyone chewing gum. While this is good information, I agree with the above comment that I'd want to see some documentation on the deaths. I'm very skeptical. I'm also amused that it took 15 paragraphs to say, "Don't chew gum during workouts; you could choke on it." Of course, that applies to life in general. I would add, "It also makes you look like a cow chewing its cud, and is especially annoying if you chew with your mouth open and snap it constantly." Report
"three of his students admitted to having witnessed someone choke on their gum while working out in the gym--and all three died"

Call me a skeptic and a person who doesn't cave in to fear mongering. Can you provide the proof of these deaths or is it just hearsay? Claims such as this should be linked to credible sources.
The only time I chew gum is while walking because I tend to walk for between 1 1/2 to 2 hours. It helps me moderate my water intake so that I don't drink it too fast and then cut my walk short to use the washroom! I keep my water bottle handy when working out and would never chew gum then. Report
Never gave it a thought since I don't chew gum, and have never happened to see anyone at the gym chewing - but this certainly is great information to be aware of because it makes perfect sense. Thanks you so much for this! Report
I never even considered the dangers of chewing gum during a workout as I do this almost every time. It makes total sense. For sure stopping this habit. Report
Makes perfect sense and I've never considered this. Now I know to keep an eye out for others. Thankfully, I'm trained to handle the situation if it were to happen! Report
That's something I'd never even thought about before reading this article. Makes so much sense when you think about it. I used always to have a piece of gum in my mouth when exercising, because it was easier than having to stop to take a few mouthfuls of water. I ran out of gum about 18 months ago and decided if I could work out once without it, I could do without it for good. Didn't imagine what a great idea that was. Thank you for this article - I hope many others read it and take notice. Who knows how many lives it could save. Report
I never chew gum during my workout but I do when I lay down and watch the news at night (I have it especially to curb sugar cravings) . I often am awakened by my gum half way down my throat and have swallowed it sometimes. Thanks for the info.!!! I think I'll pass on the gum from now on while watching TV and just have a snack or chew gum only when I know I can't fall asleep. Report
Thanks for the warning! Sure makes sense to me! Report
I also am a gum chewer, but now that I have be informed of what could happen , no more gum chewing while working out.
Thank You !!!!!!!!!! Report
Chewing gum is disgusting at the best of times, but while exercising and deep breathing it is both dangerous and grotesque Report
Wow, I never thought of this; chewing gum is just something you do so absentmindedly. I certainly won't do it again. Thank you for sharing. Report
I used to train with gum excessively. However, when I switched to triathlons, you sure can't chew gum and swim, so I stopped chewing during exercise. I am glad that I stopped chewing gum during exercise. I never really thought about choking on it!! Report
Interesting life saving information thanks for sharing. Report
Thanks for taking the time to share this with us Dana!! It's much appreciated. Report