Wearing a Mask During Workouts Really Isn’t So Bad

Most expressed some surprise, instead, that the masks had not bothered them, says Dr. Danny Epstein, an attending physician in the internal medicine department at Rambam Health Care Campus, who led the new study. They “had believed that their performances would be decreased by masking,” he says.

Similarly, the researchers in the second masking study, which was published this month in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, hypothesized that masking would make exercisers uncomfortable and tired. For confirmation, they ran a group of 14 healthy, active men and women through the same ride-to-exhaustion sessions as in the Israeli study, while the volunteers alternately wore no mask or a three-layer cloth or a surgical face covering. The researchers monitored oxygen levels in the riders’ blood and muscles, heart rates, other physiological measures and the riders’ sense of how hard the exercise felt.

Afterward, contrary to their hypothesis, they found no differences in the riders’ experience, whether they had worn a mask or not.

“From the results of our study, I don’t think masks are likely to make workouts feel worse,” says Philip Chilibeck, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, who oversaw the study.

Of course, both of the new studies recruited healthy, active adults. We do not know if the results would be the same in people who are older, younger, in worse shape or have existing breathing problems. The studies also involved cycling. The outcomes probably would be similar in running, weight training and other vigorous activities, both Dr. Epstein and Dr. Chilibeck say, but that idea, for now, remains a presumption. And, obviously, the studies looked at how masks affect the wearer, not whether and to what extent different facial coverings prevent the spread of respiratory droplets during exercise.

Still, the findings suggest that anyone who hesitates to wear a mask during exercise should try one — although not an N95 mask, Dr. Epstein says, since they slightly up riders’ carbon dioxide levels and, anyway, should be reserved for health care workers.

“Covid-19 changes almost every aspect of our lives and makes simple things more complicated,” Dr. Epstein says. “But we can learn how to keep doing the essential things, such as exercise. I learned to spend long hours with P.P.E.” — meaning full face masking and other protective clothing — “at the hospital. So, I believe we can get used to going to the gym,” and paths and sidewalks and busy trails, “with a mask.”

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