In places around the globe, people are being encouraged to wear masks every time they go out. In some areas, they are ordered to stay home and only be allowed to leave their house for essentials, including exercise.
Such instructions result in a dilemma for many. Issues have even arisen, including if people should be wearing masks while exercising or engaging in strenuous or intense physical activity; and if wearing a mouth and nose covering would make it more difficult to breathe at a time they're working harder than the normal to pull air into their lungs.
Since the onset of the pandemic, researchers and health officials have had serious apprehensions about this. An official advice from the World Health Organization maintains that "people should not wear masks while exercising" as they can help reduce their ability to breathe comfortably.
New Review on the Effects of Wearing Masks
A new review of the effects of masks, specifically on the cardiorespiratory system, which includes the heart, lungs, and blood vessels, during an individual's physical activity proposes most people need to effectively be able to breathe "just fine with a mask on" while working out. However, it may not feel that way all the time.
According to University of California San Diego psychologist Susan Hopkins, there might be an apparent greater initiative with activity. However, the impacts of wearing a mask on the work of breathing, on gases such as oxygen and CO2 in the blood, or other physiological restrictions are small -- frequently too small to be identified.
In a new study Hopkins, together with her co-authors, investigated the existing scientific literature reviewing the "effects of different face coverings on cardiorespiratory response during physical activity," considering many different studies, and incorporating different types of masks which include cloth coverings, surgical masks, N95 respirators, and more.
Scientists recognize that the literature directly investigating this issue is developing and that there is still a need for more studies.
No Significant Effect on Lung Function and Oxygen Intake
Amid the worries, researchers said, the present evidence proposes that masks healthy people wear during exercise do not appear to significantly affect lung function and oxygen intake, in spite of the minimal resistance to airflow they create.
This means that wearing a face-covering or respirator during exercise or physical activity is not likely to cause any harm.
Nevertheless, the feeling of experiencing shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, as well as the other forms of discomfort, may possibly arise when individuals exercise and put on masks, especially if they are not used to wearing them.
Commenting on this new finding, Hopkins said, wearing a face mask can cause discomfort, adding, "There can be a tiny increase in breathing resistance."
The expert also said, aside from the possibility of re-inhaling warmer, slightly-enriched CO2 air with a mask on while exercising, the covering can cause the face "to become hot and sweaty, as well."
However, Hopkins added, "these are sensory perceptions," and they do not affect cardiopulmonary function in healthy individuals.
The findings, in general, which are independently supported by a new trial conducted by Canadian scientists mean, there is no need to worry too much about the discomfort wearing masks while exercising brings.
Experts say it may not feel great, although it really "beats the alternative." The said research findings are presented in Annals of the American Thoracic Society.