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Cloth face masks during exercise limit performance and physical capacity, study finds

Heart rate peaks lower and oxygen intake drops, according to sports science research

Liam James
Wednesday 14 April 2021 08:55
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Cloth face coverings limit performance and physical capacity during exercise, a new study has found.

Masked joggers said they felt claustrophobic during higher-intensity exercise and their oxygen intake was reduced, according to research.

Heart rate was found to have a lower peak while exercising with a mask and participants could not keep up a jog for as long as when unmasked.

The results of the small clinical trial were published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).

It follows a controversy in which academics suggested that wearing a mask while running past people would help stem the spread of coronavirus.

Trish Greenhalgh, professor in primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, was accused by a Public Health Engalnd expert of “whipping up hysteria” for saying on Good Morning Britain there can be a “danger” for pedestrians when a “puffing, panting” jogger runs past them.

Previous research on the effect of face coverings on exercising have mostly studied N95 and surgical masks, which are not widely available, researchers said.

The findings published in the BJSM were based on the exercise performance of 31 healthy adults aged 18-29 while running on a treadmill to exhaustion, once while wearing a cloth face covering and once without.

On average, participants managed to run for 1 minute 39 seconds (14 per cent) longer while unmasked.

The majority of participants (30) agreed or strongly agreed that it was harder to give maximum effort while wearing a mask.

Some described feeling “claustrophobic,” “suffocated” and “anxious” as they could not “get a deep breath”.

Researchers said the physiological impact of wearing cloth masks during exercise is poorly understood, and recommendations for wearing face masks during exercise vary globally.

But they said the results “do not fully explain how mask-wearing might directly limit cardiovascular function” so concluded that “discomfort associated with mask-wearing” had led to the reduction in performance.

The UK government does not advise wearing masks while exercising outdoors or in a gym. The World Health Organisation advises against wearing a mask during high-intensity exercise.

The researchers recommended that exercise variables such as frequency, intensity and type should be modified accordingly when wearing a face covering.

Additional reporting by PA

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