Wearing a face mask while exercising has only a small effect on healthy people’s ability to engage in vigorous exercise, according to a study published today in the US. European Respiratory Journal.
Italian scientists examined breathing, cardiac activity and exercise performance in a group of 12 subjects who cycled on an exercise bike – both with and without a face mask.
No health risks
Although some measurements showed differences between sports with and without a mouth mask, there do not appear to be any health risks associated with wearing a mouth mask while exercising, according to the researchers. The study suggests that people who exercise intensively can therefore safely wear a mouth mask, for example to avoid infecting other athletes in a fitness room.
“We know that the main mode of transmission of the coronavirus is through droplets in the breath and that it is possible that breathing harder during exercise could facilitate transmission, especially indoors,” said Dr. Elisabetta Salvioni of the Centro Cardiologico Monzino in Milan. “Research suggests that wearing a mask may help prevent the spread of the disease, but there is no clear answer as to whether masks are safe to wear during vigorous exercise.”
Therefore, the team examined a group of healthy volunteers consisting of six women and six men with an average age of 40 years. Each subject participated in three different exercise tests: once without a mask, once with a surgical mask (blue single-use mask), and once with an FFP2 mask. The latter mask offers better protection than the surgical face mask because it stops more virus particles.
The results of the tests showed that wearing a mouth mask during exercise had little effect on breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels in the blood. For example, there was an average decrease of about 10 percent in the aerobic performance capacity, movements that require increased effort from the heart and lungs.
“This reduction is modest and, crucially, it does not indicate a risk to healthy people who exercise with a mouth mask – even when exercising at their highest capacity,” said Dr. Massimo Mapelli of the University of Milan. “While we wait for more people to be vaccinated against Covid-19, this finding may have practical implications in everyday life, such as making it possibly safer to open indoor gyms.”
However, the researchers also emphasize that this does not necessarily apply to people with heart or lung disease and that more research is needed for this. (mah)