Ever since the covid-19 pandemic began, one question has been raking up debate time after time. Is it safe to workout with your mask on? While many doctors advise against it, research suggests that it might not be as bad as we think it to be.
And now, a new study suggests that wearing a face mask during intense exercise is safe for healthy people. In fact, the researchers believe that it could reduce the risk of covid-19 spreading at indoor gyms.
The findings of the study were published in the European Respiratory Journal. For the study, researchers carried out detailed testing on breathing, heart activity, and exercise performance in a group of 12 people while they were using an exercise bike with and without a mask.
Although they found differences in some measurements between wearing a mask and not wearing a mask, the researchers noted that none of their results indicated any risk to health.
These results suggested that masks could be worn safely during intense exercise, for example, to reduce covid-19 transmission between people visiting an indoor gym.
The study was by a team of researchers including Dr Elisabetta Salvioni from Centro Cardiologico Monzino, IRCCS, Milan, Italy, and Dr Massimo Mapelli and Professor Piergiuseppe Agostoni from Centro Cardiologico Monzino and the University of Milan.
Dr Salvioni said, “We know that the main route of transmission for coronavirus is via droplets in the breath and it’s possible that breathing harder during exercise could facilitate transmission, especially indoors. Research suggests that wearing a mask may help prevent the spread of the disease, but there is no clear evidence on whether masks are safe to wear during vigorous exercise.”
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To address this question, researchers worked with a group of healthy volunteers made up of six women and six men with an average age of 40. Each person took part in three rounds of exercise tests: once while not wearing a face mask, once wearing a surgical mask (blue, single-use mask), and once wearing a ‘filtering facepiece 2’ or FFP2 mask (white, single-use mask believed to offer slightly better protection than a surgical mask).
While the volunteers used an exercise bike, the researchers measured their breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and the levels of oxygen in their blood.
Results of the tests showed that wearing a face mask had a small effect on the volunteers. For example, there was an average reduction of around 10% in their ability to perform the aerobic exercise (according to their ‘peak VO2’ which is a measurement of their highest possible oxygen uptake).
The results also indicated that this reduction was probably caused by it being slightly harder for the volunteers to breathe in and out through the masks.
Dr Mapelli said, “This reduction is modest and, crucially, it does not suggest a risk to healthy people doing exercise in a face mask, even when they are working to their highest capacity. While we wait for more people to be vaccinated against covid-19, this finding could have practical implications in daily life, for example potentially making it safer to open indoor gyms.
“However, we should not assume that the same is true for people with a heart or lung condition. We need to do more research to investigate this question,” Dr Mapelli added.
Professor Bayat concluded, “Although these results are preliminary and need to be confirmed with larger groups of people, they seem to suggest that face masks can also be worn safely for indoor sports and fitness activities, with a tolerable impact on performance.”