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Masks and Exercise
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Masks and exercise in the era of COVID-19

Woman stretching with mask

Are masks and exercise a good combination? 

Let’s Get Moving Host Maria Shilaos talks with Dr. Brett McIff, who is the Physical Activities Coordinator for the Utah Health Department.  They cover what types of masks you should wear and whether it can be unhealthy to wear a mask while working out.  

Masks or no masks? 

According to Dr. Brett McIff, one thing that is very consistent over the past few months is there’s a lot of unknowns about the pandemic. 

“We just plain don’t know a lot of things,” stated McIff. “What we do know is that when someone is wearing a mask it makes a huge difference on if they are transmitting any virus out to other people.” 

“We also know when someone is active they are going to not only double, but usually, quadruple their breathing rate,” said McIff. “When you go out for a run, that ability to project virus partials can be as much as fifteen feet.”

Masks should be worn if you cannot maintain a social distance of at least six feet, according to McIff. However, if you are by yourself and are far away from people, you don’t need to wear a mask; but, keep one handy. 

“You’re going to pass people, you’re going to be close to people, you’re going to be next to the mom with the stroller, you’re going to be next to the older couple that are going for a walk around the block,” stated McIff.

“Do your bit to do your best to wear a mask if you need to be near people, just keep it in your pocket if you don’t need it for that moment.”

Should masks be worn inside gyms? 

With gyms opening back up, there’s still confusion around if masks should be worn inside. 

“If we are doing Zumba should we still be wearing a mask?” Maria Shilaos asked. 

“We are going to look at that distance and the type of activity,” stated McIff. “We do have this idea if you are in the gym, your completely healthy and there is no reason we have to wear it, knowing that the likelihood of someone being able to transmit it, even if you don’t know you have it, is really there.”

According to McIff, protecting people the best we can is the most important thing. 

“It can be uncomfortable it can get warm, moist, and humid, explained McIff. “We don’t always like the feel of it, but if you are going to be next to somebody we definitely need to wear them.”

Types of Masks and Exercise

Paper masks

  • Great if you are walking around, going to the store, etc.
  • Not a good idea when you are doing your exercise.

“They can get saturated with the breath that your breathing out, explained McIff. “It can almost saturate that masks which can make it a little harder to breathe.”

Fabric Masks

  • Good for exercise

“They have layers arranged in a way that prevents the droplets from being transmitted, but still allows for airflow,” stated McIff. 

Do masks need to be right up against your face? 

“The importance is having the seal so you are not having breath go out the sides,” explained McIff. “If it is still sealed along the side of the face, around underneath the chin and around the nose, you aren’t going to see the breath going out.” 

Is it unhealthy to wear masks and exercise? 

Some people are concerned with the potential health impacts of wearing a mask while working out. 

“As a general statement, most people will tolerate the wearing of a mask during exercise very well,” said McIff. “There are some people who may have a little bit of extra issues with cardiovascular, respiratory issues which may make it more difficult. In those cases, it is best for them to work with their physicians.” 

“If you are doing something really high intensity you’re going to see a little bit of decrease in the amount of airflow through that mask, but that is really going to be a self-limiting problem, ” said McIff.

According to McIff, if you find yourself dizzy at any level, that is the primary thing to look out for.

“Some people have been using specific kinds of masks that do restrict the airflow coming in. They are typically higher-level athletes,” explained McIff.  

“It is a great way to make your body react and actually start producing more red blood cells to be able to carry oxygen better,” said McIff. “The more you do it you’ll actually find it gets a little bit easier.”

Don’t stop exercising

“The one thing that is probably really critical, is that people who are regularly physically active, tend to be healthier, tend to have a better ability to fight off, not just coronavirus, but every kind of infection,” explained McIff.  

Even though it may be more difficult now, McIff explained they do not want to see the amount of physical activity decrease. 

“If you can’t handle wearing a mask, do what you can to work our at home, find a place to be away from others or just learn to adapt,” stated McIff. “We want to make sure people stay physically active. Right now it is probably one of the best things we can do. “


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