The current COVID-19 pandemic has created much uncertainty and fear as cases continue to spike off and on throughout the year. One question that continues to be on people’s minds as a new strain virus spreads is whether or not they should exercise while wearing a mask. Unfortunately, there are mixed messages about this issue. Let’s dive into what you need to know to make the best choice and stay healthy during the pandemic.
What do the experts say about wearing a mask?
Whether you should wear a mask or not is a difficult question to answer because there are differing opinions on the matter, even from different top-tier health organizations. For example, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that exercising with a mask is completely safe. At the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends against it over safety concerns. So how do you decide what’s best for you? Of course, staying healthy should be your ultimate goal. Make an informed choice and talk to your doctor about any concerns if needed.
What are the safety risks with wearing a mask to exercise?
There are two primary concerns that people and health professionals have when wearing a mask: the breathing of CO2 and sweat. Since the masks we wear are not airtight, it has been shown that CO2 can dissipate from the masks quickly while still preventing the transmission of larger droplets that might contain the COVID virus.
On the other hand, moderate to excessive sweat when exercising can be harmful. This is because the added moisture can encourage the growth of microorganisms and make it difficult to breathe comfortably.
Outside of safety, there are often concerns about comfort as well. Using a mask while exercising can make it hard for some people to exercise at their usual level of effort, thus compromising their ability to get in a good workout.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when exercising
Making the right choice when you’re exercising depends on a few factors, including:
- Where you are exercising. If you are outdoors, exercising at home, or able to keep 6 feet apart at the gym, there is no practical reason for why you should need to wear a mask. On the other hand, if you are indoors and close to others, you should consider wearing one.
- Your overall health. If your health is compromised due to allergies or autoimmunity, you may want to protect yourself if there is a risk of disease transmission.
- The sweat factor. If you are sweating a lot or feeling overheated (or dizzy, nauseous, etc.) with the use of your mask, it’s best to go mask-free when you are exercising. Simply do your best to reduce your risk in other ways by keeping your distance and washing your hands after any contact with other people or items.
- Your vaccination history. As of this writing, in the U.S., masks are no longer required in most public places if you are vaccinated. This includes gyms, parks, and other areas you may be exercising. Of course, the policies vary by state, business, and personal preference for health protection, so always follow the local guidelines.
To mask or not to mask?
The bottom line is that you should decide what feels best for you when it comes to wearing a mask while exercising. If you are generally healthy and feel comfortable following the guidelines mentioned above, there is no need to wear a mask.
However, if you have any concerns or are in an at-risk group, it is best to err on the side of caution and wear a mask. Alternatively, remember you can always ditch any risk altogether by working out at home. The choice is yours.