How Wearing Face Masks Affects The Quality Of Your Exercise

Public health officials recommend that people wear face masks in public places to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. But some experts recently raised concerns about the unexpected effects of facial coverings during exercise. 

Masks may help prevent droplets carrying coronavirus from being released into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. But it may also limit performance when working out. 

A paper, recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, highlights the challenges to balance benefits of covering your face during exercise versus possible adverse events. Wearing a mask may restrict breathing and cause discomfort, but not using one may release more droplets into the air as people breathe heavier during strenuous activities.

To understand the effects of wearing masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists worked with athletes to conduct separate tests requiring facial coverings. Many found that masks can alter exercise, according to Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise.

“In my personal experience heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask,” he said as quoted by Irish Times. “You should anticipate that it will be about eight to 10 beats higher per minute.”

That means heart rates begin to increase immediately after putting on a mask. Bryant said it would get higher during exercise. 

In another experiment, Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico, found wearing masks appeared contributing to lightheadedness during workouts. Working with two athletes, he said running with a mask on made one participant dizzy after only a few minutes of exertion.

But there are ways to reduce or avoid such discomforts caused by face masks. The first should focus on getting the right mask and fitting, according to Christa Janse van Rensburg, a professor of exercise science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. 

She suggested that people avoid paper and surgical masks during exercise. That is because both materials rapidly become wet and lose some of their ability to block outgoing germs. 

Cloth masks made from breathable, synthetic materials may work better in preventing moisture buildup. Pick masks with two layers of fabric or less since they are less likely to cause facial overheating and to constrict breathing.

Exercise with Face Mask Woman in protective mask doing hyperextension exercise outdoors. Pexels