Should you wear a mask during exercise?

With UK gyms reopening last week, there have been more and more instances of activewear manufacturers creating masks specifically designed for exercise. It is now the law to wear a face covering in shops, on public transport and when visiting other public services (banks, post offices etc), but is it necessary in gyms?

Thanks to the doubling (or even quadrupling!) of breathing rate during exercise, gyms were some of the first places to be closed at the start of the pandemic. Now, in the UK, gyms are exempt from face covering rules, but in the interest of safety as the gyms reopen, some people may decide to wear them. A similar situation arises when considering outdoor exercise, such as running, as the streets get busier. So what are the pros and cons of this?

Masks have been implemented in various locations as a method of ‘source control’, to prevent droplets from the mask wearer from spreading to surfaces or other people. While there has been much discussion around this topic, the evidence suggests that a reduction in transmission coincides with mask wearing in countries where this is observed.

While the exact figures of transmission risk will depend on various factors, this graphic shows how wearing a mask benefits everyone around the wearer.

This article by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) lists some of the considerations that should be taken into account when considering the wearing of a mask during exercise, namely:

  1. Masks that work the best (FFRs, e..g N95) should be reserved for healthcare workers and not lay use.
  2. Masks increase the rate of perceived exertion, creating an effect similar to minor altitude training.
  3. Masks that have increased airflow to reduce discomfort are also less effective at source control, allowing more droplets to spread.
  4. Cloths and masks are likely to become damp during exercise, reducing their breathability and increasing perceived exertion.
  5. Masks may encourage less social distancing behaviour.
Graphic from the BMJ

So, with the above considerations, are they recommended?

It depends. Masks are effective at reducing transmission, so long as compliance is high. However, many people will choose not to wear one during exercise due to the increase in perceived exertion. So long as everyone adheres to social distancing guidelines, increases hand washing and avoids touching their face during exercise, mask wearing in gyms and out running may be unnecessary. However, if you feel safer wearing a mask during exercise, please do so, so long as it is not at the expense of other guidelines designed to reduce transmission. This may be the case if you are exercising in a crowded space and can’t avoid people – although I would argue that in this case, exercising should be postponed to less busy times.

If you choose to exercise using a mask, remember to bring hand sanitiser and use it before and after touching the mask. Reduce the intensity of your workout to compensate for the increased perceived exertion. If you have an extended workout session, consider bringing a spare mask for when the first gets wet, as this could pose extra risks and increase discomfort. If you feel ill, do not go to the gym, and remember, always wash your hands.

I hope this helps! I’d love to know if you’ll be wearing a mask when you go back to the gym, or indeed whether you feel safe to go back to the gym at all? I have not yet, and will not feel safe for a while, unless it is nigh on empty! I don’t think I’ll wear a mask at the gym, but I also won’t go at all if there are lots of people in there. Let me know your thoughts below and feel free to share on Instagram!

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One thought on “Should you wear a mask during exercise?

  1. Anna says:

    Nice article!

    I’ve been going to my local PureGym in Bristol without a make and feel very safe and relieved to be working out again!

    Like

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