Good News: It’s Safe to Exercise in a Mask!

In many places, safety precautions seem to change daily. What is and isn’t open is confusing. We look up places on our phones before heading out but still sometimes find ourselves disappointed. In many areas, gyms are closed. It makes sense. COVID-19 is spread through the air — from one person’s breath to another. Being in a closed space with many people breathing hard is not a safe place to be. Exercising outside or in your own home is far safer.

But, outside, you may still be surrounded by strangers. For people with underlying medical conditions, the threat of COVID-19 is bigger. Older people are also at higher risk. And many of us want to protect ourselves. Wearing a mask is always the best option. But there have been many questions about how safe it is to wear a mask while exercising. You breathe hard and sweat. Do you get enough air when your face is obscured? Is a mask that is thick enough to protect you from others also thin enough to allow you to breathe clean air?

The good news is, yes. According to research from UC San Diego and reported by Fox, it is safe to exercise in a mask. The scientists found that a mask is unlikely to cause diminished lung function or shortness of breath. If you’re noticing problems, it’s probably because of how weird it feels to exercise in a mask — not because of a breathing problem. The mask is uncomfortable but not doing you any harm.

There might be a perceived greater effort with activity, but the effects of wearing a mask on the work of breathing, on gases like oxygen and CO2 in blood or other physiological parameters are small, often too small to be detected,” said Dr. Susan Hopkins, of UCSD School of Medicine. She added that it was true for everyone. “There’s also no evidence to support any differences by sex or age in physiological responses to exercise while wearing a face mask.”

The only people who might have trouble, according to the researchers, could be folks with severe cardiopulmonary disease. They should speak to their doctors. But they are also at extremely high risk for COVID-19, so Dr. Hopkins advised that they touch-base with their doctor anyway. A discussion about wearing a mask is especially important for them!

If you are alone outdoors, there is no reason to wear a mask. Masks protect you from the particles in the air around you. While indoors, particles can hang in the air for hours, outside with a breeze, the likelihood is much lower. In the end, you have to do what feels right for you, use common sense and follow the laws in your area. But, if you want to wear a mask but have been frightened that you might be inhaling too much carbon dioxide, this new research should set your mind at rest!

Banner image: Gustavo Fring via Pexels
November 18, 2020

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