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Exercising with a face mask

Dr. Sudhindra Vooturi, Saturday, June 13, 2020

Dr. Sudhindra Vooturi, Consultant Lifestyle and Rehabilitation, KIMS Hospitals,Secunderabad 

If you have to wear a face mask to exercise outdoors under coronavirus stay-at-home orders, here is how to make sure you get enough oxygen and stay safe.

Is it safe to exercise with a face mask on?

Generally, yes, it's safe for most people to exercise while wearing a face mask, most people can perform every and all exercises with a face mask on," But, you should monitor how you are feeling while exercising and watch out for specific symptoms such as light-headedness, dizziness, numbness or tingling and shortness of breath."

Should anyone not exercise with a face mask on?

People who have cardiovascular or respiratory conditions should take caution when exercising with a face mask on.  Therefore, someone that has heart or lung condition that is on the more severe side should exercise indoors probably without a face mask. It is always a good idea to ask your doctor about exercising with a face mask before attempting to do it. If you can't go see your doctor right now, try calling or scheduling a telemedicine visit. 

Also, people who are new to exercising or haven't exercised in a long time should pay extra attention if exercising while wearing a face mask. Monitor the intensity of your workout and keep it on the low-to-moderate side to avoid symptoms like dizziness and fainting. 

What happens when you exercise with a face mask on? 

Compared with normal breathing, wearing any kind of protective mask decreases the flow of air into your lungs. Less oxygen in your lungs means less oxygen in your bloodstream and your working muscles, which is what makes training more difficult. Different masks have varying levels of airflow restriction, depending on the thickness of the material. "With less air, your body has less available oxygen to utilize during exercise to convert glucose [sugar] into energy."  

What to expect while exercising with a face mask on

Due to the increase in breathing resistance, it's normal to get out of breath quicker than you typically would in your workout when not wearing the face mask. You may not be able to perform at the same level that you would when not wearing the face mask.

Even those who have a relatively high level of fitness, should expect to fatigue faster when exercising with a face mask. If you start to feel dizzy, imbalanced, or overly fatigued, stop.  Be smart [and] don't over-do it. Pay attention to how your body responds to your workout while wearing a face mask, especially during higher-intensity exercises, such as heavy weightlifting, sprints, plyometrics, CrossFit-style workouts, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and cardio workouts. 

How to know if you're getting enough oxygen 

The most accurate way to determine if you're getting enough oxygen is to use a pulse oximeter, which tells you exactly the oxygen saturation of your blood. The next best thing is to simply listen to your body. If you experience light-headedness, dizziness, extreme shortness of breath or numbness and tingling, you need to stop exercising and sit down and take a break. If you feel any of these symptoms, this is your body telling you that something is not right, and that something is that you are not getting enough oxygen into your lungs and to the rest of your body. 



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