The global pandemic has made life difficult for gym users. When the gyms were closed, many resorted to home training or walks on paths. But when the gyms reopened, a new hurdle arose: can you train with a mask? Some research has said no, but a new study says mask yourself with confidence.
While study after study has shown that wearing a face mask can prevent the trapping or spread of COVID-19, there have been concerns about the safety of strenuous exercise with the mask on.
Droplets can continue to migrate with heavy breathing, so it’s important to keep your distance and keep a mask on.
The main contributing factors to complications from COVID-19 are obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Exercise helps prevent these serious medical problems, which is why researchers want to determine whether strenuous exercise is safe while wearing a mask.
A study published Nov. 3 suggests that masks shouldn’t interfere with your exercise.
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, discover that masks have no harmful effects when engaged in intense exercise.
This study consisted of 14 physically active and healthy men and women. Participants began with a 5-minute rest period and a 5-minute warm up on a stationary bike. All participants were monitored with non-invasive measuring instruments. During the stress test, participants had to gradually increase the intensity while maintaining the pedal frequency. As soon as they broke the pedal rate, the test ended. This was repeated three times; once with a surgical mask, once with a three-layer fabric mask and once without a mask. During each test, the subject’s blood and muscle oxygen levels were recorded. Heart rate, oxygen saturation, and perceived exertion rating were recorded every 30 seconds
The results showed that the time to exhaustion and peak performance achieved were no different for either type of face mask than for no face mask conditions. The level of oxygen saturation during exercise with a face mask did not differ from the data collected when exercising without a face mask.
The researchers in this study concluded that wearing a surgical mask or cloth mask during progressively intense exercise does not make any difference in performance. Other studies suggest that wearing a face mask while exercising may affect performance. A study by Fikenzer and colleagues in May 2020 concluded that medical masks affect quality of life. In Fikenzer’s study, participants wore a spirometry mask over the surgical mask to monitor cardiopulmonary and metabolic status. This would seal the surgical mask on the face, make breathing difficult, and affect the assessment.
A study conducted by USask found evidence that wearing a face mask while exercising had minimal effects on blood and muscle oxygenation. According to the Mayo Clinic, training with a mask is safe under certain conditions. Surgical masks may not be the best option because sweat can degrade the material. N95 masks are not recommended when exercising because they have been found to increase moisture and heat, and make breathing more difficult. And those with certain chronic diseases should be able to do without a mask and therefore train at home. Patients with asthma, lung disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are not recommended to exercise with a mask.
If you experience dizziness, sleepiness, tiredness, headache, or weakness while exercising with a face mask, you should stop until they wear off. If possible, remove your mask and inhale slowly to relieve the strain on your lungs and heart. If your symptoms worsen or persist, see a doctor.
Samantha Lucero is studying nursing at Drexel University.