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As gyms and fitness centers around the country begin to re-open and community exercise returns to the picture, many are raising questions about what precautions need to be taken to remain safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Among those questions is, “Do I need to wear a face mask?” and “How do I exercise with a mask?”
The conditions for wearing a face mask while exercising may vary, and so does the necessity. If you are working out at home or in an area free of other people, wearing a mask is not necessary. In addition, if you are outdoors and can remain a safe distance from others (for example, in a wide open park with few others), you may exercise mask-free.
However, if it is difficult for you to remain socially distant (more than 6 feet) from others, or if you may need to maneuver through crowds of people, you should wear a mask. This includes running through public/crowded neighborhoods and exercising in a gym--in fact, many gyms may require face masks and ban entry for gym-goers without one.
If you have pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, wearing a mask is not recommended--in this case, in order to remain safe and socially distant, an alternative is to remain at home and exercise indoors. Otherwise, you should consult a medical professional for advice on how to maintain an exercise routine.
In general, it is safe to exercise with a mask--however, there are several precautions to take while doing so. Although it is not true that masks cause carbon dioxide poisoning, it does present a physical barrier to air flow especially while breathing heavily or engaging in cardiovascular exercise. It is thus very important to monitor your physical condition at all times, and to take note if you feel symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, numbness, or shortness of breath.
While wearing a face mask, you may feel tired more quickly--and this is natural, caused by the decreased flow of air to the lungs that you would typically get mask-free. When you exercise, your muscles require more oxygen than with normal everyday activity, especially with workouts such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). To moderate the effects of wearing a mask, it is recommended that you engage in more moderate-to-low intensity exercise, especially when adapting to mask-wearing. It may take several weeks to adapt to the restricted air flow from masks before you are able to resume higher-intensity training. Some exercises, especially stationery ones like riding stationery bikes or light-moderate weight-lifting, are more conducive to mask-wearing, but as always it is important to monitor how you feel and to take breaks if you are feeling fatigued.
While exercising with a face mask, you can also expect that your mask will become more damp more quickly due to trapped sweat and heat from increased breathing rates. Disposable masks may become more permeable and thus less effective while wet, as well as carry bacteria, so it is important to discard and replace them after use.
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