By Robert Preidt
Not according to new research that suggests healthy people can safely wear a face mask while doing vigorous exercise.
The scientists assessed the breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and blood oxygen levels of 12 volunteers as they worked out on an exercise bike while wearing and not wearing a mask. There were six women and six men, average age 40. None had health problems.
There were a few minor differences in some measurements when the participants wore or didn’t wear a mask, but no indication of any risk to health, according to the study published March 8 in the European Respiratory Journal.
The findings suggest that it’s safe for healthy people to wear masks during intense exercise, said study author Elisabetta Salvioni, from the Centro Cardiologico Monzino, IRCCS, in Milan, Italy.
“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,” Salvioni said in a European Lung Foundation news release.
While wearing a face mask, the participants had an average reduction of around 10% in their ability to perform aerobic exercise, likely because it was slightly harder for them to breathe in and out through the masks, the investigators noted.
According to study author Massimo Mapelli, also from Centro Cardiologico Monzino, “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 COIVD-19, this finding could have practical implications in daily life, for example, potentially making it safer to open indoor gyms.”
However, Mapelli added, “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.”
Sam Bayat is chair of the European Respiratory Society’s Clinical Respiratory Physiology, Exercise and Functional Imaging Group. “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,” he said.
Bayat, of Grenoble University Hospital in France, was not involved in the study.
The World Health Organization has more on when and how to wear masks.
SOURCE: European Lung Foundation, news release, March 7, 2021