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Healthy people 'safe to exercise while wearing mask'

Cover Media logo Cover Media 08/03/2021
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A new study has concluded it's safe for healthy people to wear a mask during intense exercise sessions.

There have been concerns about the impact of wearing a face covering while participating in strenuous activities, while others have argued it is essential in the battle to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Researchers from Centro Cardiologico Monzino and the University of Milan have now looked into the possible health implications.

"We know that the main route of transmission for coronavirus is via droplets in the breath and it's possible that breathing harder during exercise could facilitate transmission, especially indoors," study researcher Dr Elisabetta Salvioni said. "Research suggests that wearing a mask may help prevent the spread of the disease, but there is no clear evidence on whether masks are safe to wear during vigorous exercise."

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Twelve healthy volunteers, six men and six women with an average age of 40, took part in three exercise bike workouts for the study. One session was completed without a mask, one with a surgical single-use face covering and the final one with a filtering single-use mask which is believed to offer greater protection from Covid-19 than a surgical mask. Heart rate, blood pressure, levels of oxygen in the blood and breathing rate was measured during each session.

Data showed that face masks had a limited effect on the participants, with only a small reduction in oxygen intake recorded - experts believe this could be because breathing may be slightly more difficult while wearing a mask.

"This reduction is modest and, crucially, it does not suggest a risk to healthy people doing exercise in a face mask, even when they are working to their highest capacity," study researcher Dr Massimo Mapelli explained. "While we wait for more people to be vaccinated against Covid-19, this finding could have practical implications in daily life, for example potentially making it safer to open indoor gyms.

"However, we should not assume that the same is true for people with a heart or lung condition. We need to do more research to investigate this question."

The team is now studying the impact of wearing a face mask while carrying out daily activities such as housework or climbing the stairs in both healthy people and those with lung or heart conditions.

The study was published in the European Respiratory Journal.

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