Public health officials have suggested the use of masks to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Our results suggest wearing a mask during exercise will have no impact on performance.
December 15, 2020
Keely Shaw, PhD Student
University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
Take home message
- Wearing a reusable cloth facemask or a disposable mask has no detrimental effect on exercise performance
- In a healthy, active population, neither cloth nor surgical masks impact blood or muscle oxygenation during exercise, nor did they affect ratings of perceived exertion
- Public health officials have suggested the use of masks to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Our results suggest wearing a mask during exercise will have no impact on performance
- The wearing of facemasks may be a low-cost way of decreasing transmission of the COVID-19 virus
- There are concerns around wearing facemasks during exercise due to the potential rebreathing of carbon dioxide or increased resistance to inspiration and respiration, increasing the work of breathing
How the study was done
- 14 active individuals (7 males, 7 females) performed a progressive cycle ergometer exercise test to exhaustion on three separate days: Once while wearing a 3-layer cloth face mask, once while wearing a disposable surgical face mask, and once with no mask. The order of these conditions was randomized with at least 48 h separating conditions.
- Participants rested quietly for 5 minutes and then performed a 5-min warm-up at a self-selected resistance, which was recorded and used on subsequent visits. The test started at a power output from 35 to 100 W depending on the fitness level and was increased 35 W every 2 min until exhaustion.
- Heart rate, arterial oxygenation, and rating of perceived exertion (modified Borg scale) were measured every 30 seconds during the exercise test. Tissue oxygenation of the quadriceps (measured using near-infrared spectroscopy) was measured continuously and analyzed as 20-second averages.
- Time to exhaustion and peak power output were recorded following completion of each test.
What the researchers found
- Time to exhaustion during the exercise test and peak power output were not different for face mask compared to no face mask conditions
- No differences were observed in physiological variables between masked and non-masked conditions at any time during the exercise test.
- There were no differences between men and women in their ability to tolerate vigorous exercise while wearing a face mask.
- Exercise performance and physiological variables during an incremental cycle ergometer test were not affected by wearing either a disposable surgical face mask or a reusable cloth face mask
- Our findings indicate that people can wear face masks during intense exercise with no detrimental effects on performance and minimal impact on blood and muscle oxygenation
Shaw K, Butcher S, Ko J, Zello GA, Chilibeck PD. [Wearing of Cloth or Disposable Surgical Face Masks OLhas no Effect on Vigorous Exercise Performance in Healthy Individuals]. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020;17(21):8110.
If you cite any information from this, please consult the original article and cite that source. This summary was written for the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology and it has been reviewed by the CSEP Knowledge Translation Committee.