Taiwanese have become accustomed to wearing a mask when going out, but many people wonder if it is alright to wear one while exercising.
Official data show that nearly one-third of Taiwanese take regular exercise, but people have been stuck at home for nearly two months and are looking forward to getting some exercise outside when disease prevention measures are eased. However, news reports about a person who apparently fainted while running at night with a mask on have made many people fearful and anxious.
Studies here and abroad show that for healthy people, wearing a mask while exercising will not cause serious harmful effects such as shock or respiratory failure.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on June 30 showed that peak exercise oxygen uptake and heart rate were lower in healthy subjects who wore masks during exercise stress testing than in those who did not wear them. The researchers said that although wearing a mask might physically limit a person’s exercise capacity, the data did not show that wearing a mask has an impact on safety.
An earlier study also found that wearing a mask had no impact on ordinary healthy people’s heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and other physiological indicators. However, for people who have chronic illnesses, such as heart diseases or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, which limit physical activity to some degree, exercising while wearing a mask could indeed cause additional stress on the body that would make it riskier.
Nonetheless, most of the current literature describes studies conducted in a relatively comfortable indoor environment. In contrast, Taiwan’s climate is hot and humid, so wearing a mask outdoors can be pretty uncomfortable, and wearing one while doing strenuous outdoor exercise is sure to be a whole new experience. How this might affect the outcome can only be clarified through further investigation by Taiwanese researchers.
The medium-to-high-intensity exercise that sports enthusiasts engage in requires increased oxygen consumption, but when you start wearing a mask because of the COVID-19 outbreak, without having done so in the past, your body might not be able to adjust to it very quickly. As part of the new disease prevention lifestyle, it is therefore advisable to adjust your exercise routine to one of moderate intensity and longer duration. The best way to enjoy exercise in this situation is to start with low-intensity exercise that allows your body to gradually adjust, such as stretching, leisurely cycling, brisk walking or dancing, while keeping an eye on your physical condition and making sure to drink enough water.
It is also important to take a few spare masks when you go out to exercise, because their protective effect is reduced if they get damp from sweating, in which case you should put on a new one.
Charles Yu is a professor and head of National Chung Hsing University’s Graduate Institute of Sports and Health Management.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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