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Research suggests face masks are safe to wear during intense exercise

Research suggests face masks are safe to wear during intense exercise
March 8, 2021

Face masks can be worn safely during intense exercise and could reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading at indoor gyms, according to preliminary research findings released in Italy.

Scientists from the Monzino Cardiology Centre (CCM) in Milan and the University of Milan tested the breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen levels of six women and men on exercise bikes, with and without a mask.

Wearing a face covering reduced the participants’ ability to perform vigorous exercise by about 10%, probably because they found it slightly harder to breathe through the mask, as outlined in the paper published in the European Respiratory Journal.

Dr Massimo Mapelli, a cardiologist at the CCM, advised “this reduction is modest and, crucially, it does not suggest a risk to healthy people doing exercise in a face mask, even when they are working to their highest capacity.

“While we wait for more people to be vaccinated against Covid-19, this finding could have practical implications in daily life, for example potentially making it safer to open indoor gyms.”

The volunteers, made up of healthy individuals with an average age of 40, did three rounds of exercise. One, without a face mask, another with a single-use surgical mask and the last with a FFP2 mask. The thicker FFP2 mask resulted in a 10% reduction in peak oxygen uptake and the surgical mask had a marginally smaller impact, researchers say.

Researchers are investigating whether wearing a face mask affects people’s ability to carry out daily activities such as housework or climbing stairs, examining healthy people as well as those with heart and lung conditions.

Professor Sam Bayat, a physiologist from Grenoble University hospital, who was not involved in the research, noted “although these results are preliminary and need to be confirmed with larger groups of people, they seem to suggest that face masks can also be worn safely for indoor sports and fitness activities, with a tolerable impact on performance.”

Fitness industry groups around the world, including the Exercise Association of New Zealand and Fitness Australia have repeatedly emphasised over the past year that it is safe to exercise in gyms and studios.

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