Wearing a face mask before stepping out of your house has become the mandatory protocol that must be followed to control the spread of the Covid 19 infection. Social distancing, constant sanitisation and face covering are the most effective Covid 19 pandemic restrictions that can potentially prevent the further escalation of the deadly disease. Although lockdowns were imposed worldwide by several countries, they have now started opening up to business again. With life getting back on track in this 'new normal', athletes, sportspersons and workout enthusiasts are getting back to following their exercise regime, which does include outdoor activities. The concerning question remains: to protect yourself from the contagious viral particles, is it right to indulge in heavy exercise while wearing a mask ?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC 2020) presently recommends that everyone wear a cloth face covering or any other kind of face mask in public settings, where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain in order to slow the spread of Covid 19. Symptoms of Covid 19 include a cough, difficulty breathing, fever or chills, fatigue, body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, runny nose, nausea and diarrhoea. These symptoms like coughing and sneezing expel infected respiratory droplets that carry the viral particles in them. These droplets may reach another person if they are not wearing some kind of face-covering that will block these outgoing germs from reaching another person.
Moreso, the CDC scientists report that many individuals with Covid 19 lack symptoms or those that are 'asymptomatic' can transmit the germs to others before showing any discernible sign of having the disease. The evidence suggests that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity, for example, while speaking, singing, coughing, or sneezing, even if those persons are not exhibiting any considerable symptoms. Keeping these dangers of infection escalation in mind, people have been wearing protective masks like a surgical mask, an N95 mask or a cloth mask.
However, on June 16th The World Health Organization released guidelines, soliciting people not to wear face masks while exercising since it could reduce their ability to breathe comfortably.
The National Center for Biotechnology Information’s (NCBI) research found that exercising with customized tight facemasks induces a hypercapnic hypoxia environment meaning an inadequate Oxygen (O2) and Carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange. This acidic environment both at the alveolar and blood vessels level induces numerous physiological alterations when exercising with facemasks. These include cardiorespiratory stress, excretory system altercations, harm to the immune mechanism, brain and nervous system. Exercising in such conditions can cause discomfort, fatigue, dizziness, headache, shortness of breath, muscular weakness and drowsiness in people. Higher exercise intensity can result in poor saturation of haemoglobin due to increased pressure of carbon dioxide. This creates an acidic environment which may unload oxygen faster at the muscle level, but reduces affinity at the alveolar junction due to a higher heart rate. The partial pressure of oxygen then substantially falls, creating a hypoxic environment for all vital organs.
In a New York Times article, it has been pointed out that if you wear a mask before running or cycling at your usual pace, your heart rate will be more elevated than before. "You should anticipate that it will be about eight to 10 beats higher per minute" when you wear a mask than when you do not, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. This exaggerated rise in heart rate will be most pronounced during intense physical activity such as hill repeats or intervals, he says. Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico who is in the early stages of planning a large study of masks and exercise with funding from A.C.E. that will begin when pandemic restrictions allow, says that athletes could experience light-headedness during familiar workouts while masked. He even conducted an informal experiment with two of his students, both experienced athletes. One ran, masked, without breathing difficulties, he says. The other, wearing the same type of cloth mask, felt dizzy after only a few minutes of exertion.
Grayson Wickham, a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist at Movement Vault, tells CNET that it's safe for most people to exercise while wearing a face mask, provided that those with underlying cardiovascular or respiratory conditions take caution when exercising with a face mask on. The severity of their condition will dictate whether or not it's appropriate for them to exercise with a face mask on. These conditions include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), bronchitis, cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis and any other conditions that affect the heart or lungs. If you have a cardiovascular or respiratory condition, it's a good idea to ask your doctor about exercising with a face mask before attempting to do it.
Read More: The Best Face Mask For Exercise In 2020
Wickham says, "Someone that has an underlying respiratory condition that is on the more severe side will want to exercise indoors without a face mask," to ensure safety for themselves and others.
How Hard Should You Exercise While Wearing A Mask?
Some workouts, such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which have been shown to be very demanding on the cardiorespiratory system, may feel more difficult than usual. This could be a direct result of reduced amounts of oxygen reaching the vigorously exercising muscles. Less oxygen to exercising skeletal muscle reduces the ATP production to provide the needed energy to maintain exercise intensity and duration. Therefore, a slightly lowered oxygen level reaching the muscle is a central contributing factor to fatigue. Some of them who wear face masks may notice they are not able to complete an otherwise 'normal' workout, or they feel more fatigued than usual during and after the workout.
To minimize any such fatigue during exercise with a face mask, exercise professionals should encourage people not to push themselves as hard as usual. Exercisers should be encouraged to use the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) in combination with heart rate to monitor exercise intensity. They should allow their cardiorespiratory system time to gradually adapt to the slight restriction of airflow (from the face mask). Fitness adaptations to changes in overload during workout programs usually take weeks to formulate. It is thus integral to educate face mask-wearing exercisers that it may take several workouts before they are fully training at their regular exercise intensities.
If you do feel lightheaded, dizzy or extremely short of breath, you should sit down and take a break. If these symptoms don't go away relatively soon, you should take your mask off to allow yourself to breathe normally. If you do need to take your mask off, always follow your state's public health rules and try to maintain at least six feet of distance between you and other people.
A helpful article by Mayo Clinic says that it's safe to wear a mask while exercising, but due considerations should be made. For example, it is recommended that you perform low to moderate-intensity exercise rather than vigorous exercise while wearing a mask. This is mainly because of the decreased airflow allowed through the mask which can affect your breathing and your ability to properly regulate body temperature.
Some 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 yard work and home repair work
- Exercise classes, such as water aerobics
You can always try the talk test which entails that 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 to catch a breath.
What Kind Of Masks To Wear While Working Out?
While most of us have been wearing the regular cloth mask, neck gaiter or a surgical mask while working out, these usually turn soggy and bleed through the sweat. The damp mask becomes unhygienic as it becomes a breeding ground for germs and bacteria, in turn dropping its protective feature. There is a special range of sports masks in the market today, made especially for the comfort and protection of sportspersons. The best face masks for exercise will definitely fit the essential criteria of - maximum breathability, durability, reusability, comfort, sturdiness and ability to stay put.