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Personal hygiene key to staying healthy

A new basketball season has begun, and as you head into the gym to get down to the business of playing hoops, I want to discuss the business of personal hygiene as it relates to you and your teammates.

This isn't an easy subject to discuss, but it can make or break the season for some of you, since some of the consequences of poor hygiene are sickness, body odor and athlete's foot.

I hope that by properly addressing these issues and using your common sense when off the court, you will be able to avoid some of the pitfalls of indoor athletics.

To begin, we need to look at the first and most important issue -- washing your hands!

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people wash their hands:
• Before and after eating.
• After touching or playing with pets or other animals.
• After sneezing, coughing or blowing one's nose.
• After going to the bathroom.
• After touching trash or putting out the garbage.
• Before and after treating a cut or wound.

In addition, the way people wash their hands is not always effective. It's necessary to use soap and warm water, rub one's hands together vigorously, wash the front and the back of the hands and the wrists, as well as under the fingernails, and then rinse. It's also recommended that the water be left running during the drying process so one can use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.

A study done by Purdue University in 1997 reported that a group of children who followed a rigorous hand-washing plan greatly reduced their number of colds.

The second most important issue is controlling body odor, not hiding it. During the season, it is common for a lot of female athletes to not shower after practice or games. Let's face it -- we all sweat, perspire, glisten, glow or whatever you want to call it. Especially if we put in some extra hard practice or play really intensely during a game. In some instances, we even perspire during the day, running to class or because of other circumstances.

When we go through puberty, the body produces more perspiration because of the increase in activity of the sweat glands, some of which are located in the underarms. This causes our body odor to change and become more like an adult's. This is why daily bathing or showering, especially after exercising, is important -- it keeps the odor level down.

Deodorants and antiperspirants are key to helping with body odor. Deodorants work to cover up body odor, while antiperspirants work to control, or dry up, perspiration. Many products now contain both a deodorant and an antiperspirant. These products come as aerosol sprays, roll-ons, sticks, creams and even crystals. Check to see which one you need and use it on a daily basis after showering.

What about the issue of the women's locker room? I know many of you are self-conscious about bathing or showering in front of others. I know I certainly was as well, but it is important to do so after games when you are going to be on a bus or traveling with others.

I am not expecting a full shower like you do at home. But I guarantee that if you do this, you will stay healthier and, quite frankly, not have the bad, sweaty odor that comes from trying to cover up perspiration with perfume and body sprays. It will be better for you and for those around you.

In addition to the odor-controlling factor that comes from showering, you also increase your ability to fight off body acne and other skin aliments by maintaining clean, healthy skin, especially during the colder months.

Finally, the third most important issue is athlete's foot. Just so you know, you don't have to be an athlete to get it.

Athlete's foot thrives in moist, damp conditions, especially when a person is wearing tight shoes and socks. When the feet cannot breathe due to a lack of ventilation, athlete's foot can occur. It can take different forms on different people. Sometimes, the skin between the toes will peel and crack, and at other times, blisters will develop on the soles and sides of the feet. In most cases, there is an itch that accompanies these symptoms.

Typically, you will receive an antifungal cream to treat the problem, which generally heals in a short time.

To prevent athlete's foot, The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following steps:
• Wash feet every day.
• Be sure to dry feet thoroughly, especially in between the toes.
• Wear only cotton socks, and change them if they get moist or damp.
• Go barefoot when at home.
• Try to wear sandals, and avoid tight shoes in warm weather.
• If possible, use an antifungal powder in tight shoes.

Ladies, I hope this will help you avoid some of the personal hygiene blunders athletes make during the season. I hope you will take to heart and put into practice showering after practice and games. I know if you act as a leader in your peer group and set the tone for your teammates, they will follow your example.

Looking forward to a great season with you all. Remember, play hard and stay beautiful!

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Martonne NeVille is a columnist for ESPN HoopGurlz. She has been involved in fashion and beauty for more than 10 years, specializing in skin care, for which she has been certified through Nordstrom and Shiseido. Martonne also played volleyball for Riverside High School in Chattaroy, Wash. For questions or comments, please e-mail martonne@hoopgurlz.com.