The Hidden Exercise Risk No One Talks About


By: , – Dana Gore, Certified Personal Trainer
5/14/2014 5:00 AM   :  99 comments   :  172,274 Views

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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  • JUDY1260
    "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.
    - 3/3/2016   9:34:37 PM
  • 98
    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. - 3/3/2016   4:20:52 PM
  • 97
    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! - 3/3/2016   1:50:33 PM
  • KESA0228
    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. - 3/3/2016   12:10:37 PM
  • 95
    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! - 3/3/2016   8:37:40 AM
  • 94
    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. - 3/3/2016   1:34:07 AM
  • 93
    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. - 3/3/2016   1:19:06 AM
    Thanks for the warning! Sure makes sense to me! - 2/11/2016   12:49:38 PM
  • METOO50
    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 !!!!!!!!!! - 1/21/2016   2:52:59 PM
    Chewing gum is disgusting at the best of times, but while exercising and deep breathing it is both dangerous and grotesque - 11/16/2015   5:13:10 PM
  • 89
    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. - 11/16/2015   6:27:42 AM
  • 88
    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!! - 11/8/2015   10:39:47 AM
  • 87
    Interesting life saving information thanks for sharing. - 8/22/2015   11:16:09 PM
  • 86
    Thanks for taking the time to share this with us Dana!! It's much appreciated. - 8/17/2015   10:35:57 PM
  • 85
    I would suggest that if your gym doesn't require its staff to know first aid, you should check out another gym. Chewing gum while working out, though, is not something that has ever occurred to me but I'm not surprised if some people do it. - 8/14/2015   2:05:55 PM
  • 84
    If your exercise is swimming it is a much more critical issue. We were always cautioned in our nigh school. No gum in the pool. I see grown ups in the pool and it can wash the gum down the windpipe. If the person is in the water people might ignore a life threatening situation. - 7/24/2015   10:42:27 PM
  • 83
    Thank you it was really informative, however, I never chew gum. :) - 7/24/2015   10:58:35 AM
    This was so strange to me. I've never chewed gum while working out and can't imagine doing so or wanting to do so. However, I'm not a habitual gum chewer. I do chew it occasionally, mostly to freshen my breath. I don't worry about that while working out. - 7/24/2015   10:58:35 AM
    I have seen many people at the gyms I have worked out at in the past 30 years chew gum. At one time I was guilty as I would get bored on the elliptical and chew it. But I stopped. However I can't imagine running on a treadmill with gum in my mouth. And you know something, when I hear people smacking their gum while working out while I am trying to exercise, I sometimes wish they would swallow it. It is so rude and annoying! - 7/24/2015   8:50:40 AM
  • 80
    I always have gum in my mouth during a run. While actually running I keep it between cheek and teeth; then, when I do my alternate walking I chew on the gum. I am on a lot of mouth drying meds and the gum helps with that. Also, during the walk the chewing helps me to control my breathing. Never had a close call, but thanks for the warning. - 3/27/2015   10:09:39 AM
  • 79
    I'll admit, I read this article puzzled as to why you'd class as a health risk something surely no one would do... and then read the comments! Seems bizarre - cant imagine focusing on anything other than breathing during a run or while weight training - 3/26/2015   8:23:19 PM
  • 78
    Well I am a gum chewer while exercising and when not exercising. I enjoy chewing gum. It helps me when working out. Thanks for the warning. I only chew a small piece. Gotta have my gum but I will take heed as the dangers. I've never got choked on gum...but I have swallowed a vitamin the wrong way. I did not choke but it was lodged in my throat funny. I could breath. It was scary my son had to distract me to keep me from panicking. LOL - 10/4/2014   10:58:01 PM
  • 77
    I might have in the past but I hope this brings a stop to it for me at least.It seems to me a lot of athletes chew gum (or?) whilst playing. - 9/29/2014   9:15:00 PM
    I can understand how this could happen, but, I wonder what the statistics are of it actually happening. I usually never chew gum, so, it isn't a problem for me, but, I've never heard of anyone choking on gum while exercising either. But, if it saves even one person's life, it was worth the article. - 8/12/2014   10:45:31 PM
  • 75
    It never even occurred to me to chew gum while doing any form of exercising. I've always had a cup of water or lemon water near me. I learned to always have a water near me from my Freshman in HS Gym teacher. She always carried water with her so she taught us to do the same. She was always telling us to get rid of any gum before the start of gym class. Seeing I was in braces I never chewed gum at all. Yes I know people who did it anyway. But to this day I'm not a gum chewer. I'm more of a water & tea person. - 8/10/2014   5:08:36 PM
  • 74
    Really? All the gym staff here - including the cleaning crew - have to know first aid and would know how to dislodge something stuck in someone's throat. But the thought of chewing gum while working out? That's a danger that should be posted on walls! Good reminder! - 8/10/2014   9:22:08 AM
  • 73
    I see people chewing gum in the swimming pool and that was a big deal if you chew gum. Chewing gum in the pool rewards us a detention. Pat in Maine. - 8/9/2014   11:54:02 PM
  • 72
    I cringe watching baseball players. How they don't chock is beyond me. - 8/9/2014   7:34:31 PM
  • 71
    I find myself chewing while I'm on the treadmill, warming up. When I move to strength training, I spit it out! Guess it's not a good idea!!! - 8/9/2014   6:32:57 PM
  • 70
    WOW - I don't chew gum but I do know friends who do - I'll definitely be bringing this to their attention!! Thanks for the heads up!! - 8/9/2014   3:52:57 PM
  • 69
    THANK YOU for speaking up about this. As a fitness instructor, I am always worried about this, and try to (subtly and personally) get chewers to spit it out. I once even had to ask a school board member to spit out his gum! - 8/9/2014   11:08:02 AM
    I do not chew gum. In my youth, I was a gum-aholic. I would sometimes chew a whole pack of chicklets at a time. But gum chewing looks dumb! Nobody who chews gum looks intelligent! This is the only addiction I have ever TOTALLY eliminated from my life. I am proud of it. - 8/9/2014   10:24:25 AM
  • 67
    Chewing gum is a huge bad habit of mine. I try not to chew gum while doing intense exercises, but I still find myself struggling when I am walking, or doing other low impact exercise. It is a scary thought, and I wouldn't want to rely on someone else to save me because I was chewing gum. It's something I am going to try harder to quit doing! - 8/9/2014   7:11:37 AM
    This also holds true for children chewing gum while playing team sports...
    even when just outside playing. - 8/9/2014   6:20:59 AM
  • 65
    I chew gum when I'm on the elliptical or going for a walk because my mouth gets so dry from breathing heavily. I keep it tucked in my cheek, and honestly never thought about the fact that I could choke on it - that probably sounds really dumb, but there it is. If I drink too much water while on the elliptical, I get crampy. Guess I'll have to learn how to breathe more through my nose or something to avoid my mouth drying out! - 7/31/2014   8:48:17 AM
    How is chewing gum a hidden health risk of exercise? Its the unrealized health risk of chewing gum. FYI you don't have to be exercising to choke on your gum talking or singing while chewing gum are also good ways. Anything small that you have in your mouth has the potential to obstruct the airway. So while this is an informative article I find the tittle to be lacking in accuracy. - 7/22/2014   11:08:42 AM
  • 63
    Uh, no... I can hardly walk and chew gum, let along work out and chew gum.
    Yes, my mouth gets dry from breathing, but I shut my mouth.. do a couple swallows. It's gross when I see others chew gum vigorously... so I wouldn't put anyone else thru it. - 7/15/2014   8:46:27 AM
  • 62
    People exercise while chewing gum? Weird. Seems to me gum in the gym is a bad and messy idea. - 7/2/2014   2:27:33 PM
    I cannot go for a run without a piece of gum in my mouth!! So far I have been lucky!! It helps keep my mouth from getting dry! If I do forget it I obsess about not having it that my run gets cut very short!!! - 7/2/2014   11:52:44 AM
  • 60
    interesting...I never even thought of this when exercising! - 6/29/2014   8:16:12 AM
  • 59
    ... This is common sense. Who chews gum while working out? - 6/26/2014   2:50:38 PM
  • 58
    The topic of this article should go without saying but I do suppose that some people are really, ridiculously stupid. - 6/24/2014   4:43:27 PM
    I meant to add, learn the Heimlich-Maneuver, it is easy and effective
    - 6/16/2014   1:31:45 PM
    yes, I do have personal experince of this kind of tragedy. it was in 1969, before the Heimlich maneuver was well known. mouth to mouth recesitation does not work when the airway is blocked. a nineteen year old friend died. - 6/16/2014   1:23:47 PM
  • 55
    Great info even though I do not chew gum.
    Thanks for pointing out this danger! - 6/15/2014   10:18:16 PM
  • 54
    I have seen the personal trainers chewing gum while working out. Thanks for sharing this info!!
    - 6/15/2014   10:09:56 PM
  • KENNY1924
    Actually there are 'energy strips' that are BEST. They are a replacement of the Energy Drinks and have a bit of caffeine in them. We avoid all kinds of stuff when we exercise in the basement, and also when running outside. Bottom line is that there is a low point of energy and there is a high point. High points are great for moving to doing Tabata, and the low points are where we put the little strip in our mouth that melts in 20 seconds. - 6/15/2014   4:37:53 PM
    OMG! I had no idea that this could happen. Thanks for the 411, I will definately pass this around. - 6/15/2014   1:42:33 PM
    wow never thought of that mostly because I don't chew gum but as a nurse I can certainly see the danger. - 6/15/2014   11:26:38 AM
  • 50
    I've been warned plenty of times not to do it yet I typically chew gum when I workout. I've choked or nearly choked several times. I guess I'm one of those stubborn, I'm invincible types but I would have never thought you could die from it. Thanks for writing this, I will think twice about this the next time I go to the gym with gum in my mouth. Blowing bubbles isn't so cute anymore. - 6/14/2014   8:46:31 PM

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