Wearing a face mask is the new normal for the foreseeable future — and masking up for workouts is no exception. Of course, this raises the question of how long it’s safe to exercise while wearing a mask. Experts say there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on the type of workout you’re doing, where you’re exercising, and whether you have any underlying conditions that could put you at risk.
Rajeev Fernando, MD, an infectious disease doctor who’s been recognized as one of “America’s Top Doctors in New York” since 2014, explained that the best way to avoid getting COVID-19 — or experiencing any discomfort while working out in a mask — is to choose outdoor workouts or virtual workouts. If you work out in the privacy of your own home or find an outdoor spot where you can easily maintain a six foot distance from others, a mask isn’t necessary. Just make sure you keep a mask on hand when you’re outside in case you cross paths with anyone.
If you’re going to be around others while you’re working out (because you live in a crowded city, for example), you’ll need to mask up. “The amount of time to work out while wearing a face mask will depend on the intensity of the exercises you’re doing and whether or not you’re feeling restricted, having trouble breathing, and so much more,” Robert Quigley, MD, senior vice president and global medical director of International SOS Assistance, told POPSUGAR.
Dr. Quigley explained that, if you’re doing low-intensity exercises like walking and light weight lifting, you should be able to safely wear a mask for the duration of your workout. If you’re doing high-intensity exercises like running, heavy lifting, and HIIT, “you should be more cognizant of how you’re feeling,” he said. Plan to take frequent breaks, because wearing a mask during these types of workouts can be difficult.
Both doctors emphasized the importance of watching for any signs that you should stop your workout, regardless of the intensity. Symptoms like dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or a rapid heart rate are all red flags. If you’re struggling, take a break and restart your workout when you’re feeling better, Dr. Fernando explained. “If symptoms persist, I suggest ending the session.”
For the millions of Americans who have underlying medical conditions, such as a respiratory or cardiovascular condition, it’s even more important to be cautious. “Speak with your doctor before deciding whether or not to work out while wearing a mask,” Dr. Quigley advised. “If possible, people with underlying medical conditions generally should only participate in workouts that are socially distant and do not require a mask to be worn.”
POPSUGAR aims to give you the most accurate and up-to-date information about the coronavirus, but details and recommendations about this pandemic may have changed since publication. For the latest information on COVID-19, please check out resources from the WHO, CDC, and local public health departments.