Jeremy Amundson, L.A.T.
Wearing a mask is one way to slow the spread of infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Yet many people see a mask as a potential barrier to exercising, particularly when away from home.
Whether you're already comfortable wearing a mask while exercising or hesitant about exercising with a mask on, these questions can help you decide the safest way to approach staying active.
Is it safe to wear a mask while exercising?
Yes it's safe to wear a mask while exercising, but considerations should be made. For example, it's recommended that you perform low- to moderate-intensity exercise rather than vigorous exercise while wearing a mask. This is because of the decreased airflow allowed through the mask which can affect breathing and your ability to properly regulate body temperature.
Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include:
- Walking briskly at 2.5 MPH or faster
- Recreational swimming
- Bicycling slower than 10 MPH on level terrain
- Recreational tennis, particularly doubles
- Active forms of yoga, such as vinyasa or power yoga
- Ballroom or line dancing
- General yardwork and home repair work
- Exercise classes, such as water aerobics
Remember to try the talk test. As a rule of thumb, a person performing a moderate-intensity aerobic activity can talk, but not sing, during the activity. A person performing vigorous-intensity activity cannot say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.
Depending on the activity, is there a preferred type of mask that I should wear?
Cloth masks or masks made of a moisture-wicking material like polyester typically work well. Paper or surgical masks tend to break down because they become wet from sweat and increased exhalation that occurs during exercise. Mask material should be no more than two layers thick or less. You should not use an N95 mask while exercising, as these masks have been found to increase levels of humidity, heat, breath resistance and overall discomfort.
You also may want to consider having a spare mask on hand to replace a damp mask. A great way to maintain good hand hygiene when changing masks is to carry a travel size container of hand sanitizer with you.
Who should not use a mask while exercising?
It's recommended that people with chronic diseases exercise alone at home, under supervision when required, without using a mask. Some of the most common illnesses include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, occupational lung diseases, like mesothelioma, and pulmonary hypertension.
What should happen when exercising with a mask on?
In most situations, you should expect to experience an increase in your heart rate while exercising with a mask on. Because of this, people often experience a perceived increased rate of exertion and decreased performance during resistance training and aerobic exercise. This feeling is similar to the physical and psychological effects experienced while training in locations at higher altitudes.
Before you exercise with a mask on, consider decreasing your exertion level ― that means weight with resistance training or mileage in aerobic activities, like running and biking ― to a lower level than you would have done when not masked.
If you wear a mask while exercising, be aware of:
- Muscular weakness
- Overall discomfort
- Shortness of breath
If you experience these symptoms, stop and take a break until they subside. If able, remove your mask and try taking a few calming breaths. This can restore your breathing levels, and reduces the stress on your heart and lungs. If these symptoms continue or worsen, stop the activity. In serious cases, seek medical help.