Wearing a mask is tough, you feel hidden and constricted. You might even have a hard time breathing. Maybe you've already tried exercising with your mask on and found yourself out of breath very quickly.
You aren't alone. Wearing a mask is beneficial for stopping the spread of certain airborne illnesses, but it can be detrimental in other cases. You'll have to decide if you think wearing a mask during your exercise session is right for you.
What Happens When You Wear A Mask And Need To Breathe Deeper And Bigger
When we take a breath in, the goal is to take in enough oxygen to facilitate the exchange of carbon dioxide in our lungs. How deep you take the breath depends on your fitness level, age, and physical health.
When you're exercising, you need to take big deep breaths more often because you have a higher amount of carbon dioxide produced. Carbon dioxide is a waste product of our metabolism and has to flush out of our system or you get sick and pass out.
People who exercise often develop a larger lung capacity and a better exchange ratio in their lungs. Nearly all of the studies focus on healthy people or people with impaired lung function.
Now, we're tossing in a variable of wearing a mask more often. Although doctors and nurses have long worn masks for lengthy periods, they usually aren't doing vigorous exercise while wearing the mask. (Some hospitals pump extra oxygen into surgery rooms to help offset this)
So, now you're wearing a mask. You can feel that it takes more energy to breathe in new air. It takes more energy to puff out the used air from your lungs. There's a portion of air that does not get exchanged, and you're now breathing back in the oxygen-deficient air. This lowers the amount of oxygen available to transfer with the carbon dioxide.
In the short term, this is not much of a problem, but over time it can lower the oxygen in your blood. And that can make you light-headed, confused, and eventually cause damage to your brain and lungs.
What Can You Do About It?
Fortunately, you do have options. Some take a little bit of work, and some might be completely unthinkable for you. Let's take a look at what you can do.
Talk To Gym/Center
If your gym or health center requires you to wear masks when exercising, you can talk to the owner about the safety risks and whether or not you need the mask with the current loosening of regulations. Many gyms are now requiring people to wear masks when they move between equipment, but you can take the mask off while exercising for safety reasons.
Do Slower Exercises
You can choose to do slower exercises that require less deep breathing. If you choose this kind of exercise, you can focus more on plyometrics, heavier weights, and lower repetitions. That way, you're not straining your body, but you're still getting your workout in.
Work Out At Home
Of course, you don't even have to go to the gym. You don't have to wear a mask in your home and can do any number of exercises. If you have the equipment, great. Otherwise, check out the millions of YouTube videos that teach you different exercises to do at home.
Go For A Run
As long as you have a safe place to get outside and run, this is a free and easy exercise that gives many health benefits. Even if you live in a city and it's not that safe to run, most schools will let you use their track outside of school hours.
Of course, you could always just stop. For me, and probably for you, this is unthinkable.
Or you could just deal with it. Some people do. In fact, there's a section of martial arts that purposely wears masks that restricts breathing to build up higher and stronger lung capacity.
It's your choice on how you do your exercise and what you're willing to endure to get that exercise in. We recommend the first option of talking to your gym owner and discussing your concerns so you don't have to change your exercise routine.