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Cloth Masks Do Make Workouts a Bit Tougher, Study Finds
  • Robert Preidt
  • Posted April 14, 2021

Cloth Masks Do Make Workouts a Bit Tougher, Study Finds

A cloth mask can limit your ability to exercise, so it might be a good idea to alter your workouts when wearing one, researchers say.

Some previous studies have assessed how surgical face masks might impact exercise, but few have looked at cloth masks.

In a new study, researchers compared the exercise performance of 31 healthy adults (aged 18 to 29) who ran on a treadmill to the point of exhaustion.

The study participants did this twice, once while wearing a cloth face mask and once unmasked.

The participants typically averaged 170 minutes a week of moderate and 206 minutes a week of vigorous physical activity.

During the study, their blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, exertion and shortness of breath were measured, and they were asked how comfortable it was to wear a cloth mask while exercising.

Compared with exercising without a mask, wearing one led to a 14% drop in exercise time, a 29% drop in peak oxygen consumption and a reduced maximal heart rate, the findings showed.

When wearing the cloth mask, participants also said they felt increasingly short of breath and claustrophobic at higher exercise intensities.

Thirty of the 31 agreed or strongly agreed that putting forth maximum effort was harder with a mask on, according to the report published online April 13 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The study was led by Simon Driver, principal investigator for sports therapy and research at Baylor Scott & White Institute for Rehabilitation, in Frisco, Texas.

"Our results have several implications for training and performance while wearing a cloth face mask," the researchers noted in a journal news release.

First, the intensity, time and type of activity should be modified when masked, they advised.

"Second, exercise goals can be modified to reflect the reduced performance and psychological impact of wearing a cloth mask while still promoting safe goal attainment," the study authors added.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a guide to masks.

SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, news release, April 13, 2021

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