By now, you know that I am a huge fan of wearing a facemask to keep the spread of Covid-19 to a minimum and to keep me and my family safe. When my gym re-opened last month, they required (and still do) that everyone in the facility wear a facemask. No gators because they are suspect in the anti-aerosol spread or containment department.
When I went back to the gym, I was downright giddy. As much as I loved my daily walks, I was starting to tire of them. I missed taking my Peloton cycling classes, and since I don’t own a bike (There isn’t room in my tiny apartment.) I have always taken classes in studio or at my gym. And so, wearing my mask I rode.
Breathing isn’t always my strong suit; I can suck wind riding on good days and especially when I am riding or running. Sucking wind while wearing a mask was a whole new experience. And made me wonder if the mask was making an already precarious situation worse.
This week science gave me my answer: no.
Researchers set out to see if wearing a facemask made it difficult to breathe by altering the flow of inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, and by increasing dyspnea—the medical term for shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity. What they reported in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society is that while the sensations of dyspnea may increase, there isn’t evidence that wearing a facemask while exercising diminishes lung function.
Basically, wearing a facemask during exercise may increase your rate of perceived exertion, but its effects on the gases exchanged during breathing—oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood—are too small to be detected. Researchers also found that there weren’t any differences between sexes or age groups in how they responded to exercising while wearing a facemask.
The only exception, the study authors note, may be persons with severe cardiopulmonary disease, such as COPD, in which any added resistance to breathing or minor changes in blood gases could prompt dyspnea great enough to affect exercise capacity. I don’t fit into this exception.
My cycling workouts are difficult to begin with, and that can only make me stronger in the end. So, despite exercise feeling even more difficult, I will continue to wear a facemask when working out at the gym. I want to continue going there, especially because winter is coming and soon it will be too cold for my lungs to exercise outside. If anything, the gator and the facemask keep me warmer when I am outside and right now that isn’t a bad thing.