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Exercising with a face mask doesn't harm consumers' breathing, study finds

The findings shed more positive light on the reopening of indoor gyms

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Photo (c) DjelicS - Getty Images
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts have been encouraging consumers young and old to stay active. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Saskatchewan has found that reopening indoor gyms could be a realistic and safe option if consumers wear face masks. 

According to their findings, wearing a protective face mask while exercising doesn’t harm consumers’ breathing or negatively affect their workout performance, regardless of how strenuous the activity is. 

“Our findings are important because they indicate that people can wear face masks during intense exercise with no detrimental effects on performance and minimal impact on blood and muscle oxygenation,” the researchers wrote. “This is important when fitness centers open up during COVID-19 since respiratory droplets may be propelled further with heavy breathing during vigorous exercise and because of reports of COVID-19 clusters in crowded enclosed exercise facilities.” 

Exercising safely

To see how wearing a mask while exercising could potentially affect consumers, the researchers had 14 healthy participants exercise on a stationary bike. The intensity of the workout was steadily increased over time until the participants could no longer keep up with the pace. 

Participants completed the assessment three separate times: once without a mask, once with a surgical mask, and once with a cloth mask. At the end of each trial, the researchers assessed their blood oxygen and muscle oxygen levels to determine how a mask affected their ability to exercise. 

Ultimately, the researchers learned that wearing a face mask didn’t change the participants’ exercise outcomes. From a physiological perspective, there were no major changes to the participants’ blood oxygen levels, muscle oxygen levels, or heart rates when they wore a mask versus when they didn’t wear a mask. Wearing a mask also didn’t affect the time it took the participants to feel worn out by the workout. 

The researchers were excited by these findings because they hold a great deal of promise for consumers moving forward. Knowing that a face mask won’t impede exercise performance or physical health could have very positive implications for the reopening of indoor gyms in the safest way possible. 

“If people wear face masks during indoor exercise, it might make the sessions safer and allow gyms to stay open during COVID,” said researcher Phil Chilibeck. “It might also allow sports to continue, including hockey, where transmission of COVID-19 appears to be high.” 

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