Good News: Working Out With a Mask Doesn’t Affect Your Lung Function

Wearing a mask while out and about has become the norm for people around the world. Masks are one of the easiest ways to slow and stop the spread of the virus and as such, are important in keeping COVID-19 at bay as much as possible.

In some cities, it’s mandatory for residents to wear a face-covering while exercising. If you’ve been sceptical about the safety of donning a mask while exerting yourself through exercise, we have some good news.

While mask-wearing during exercise might be sweaty and uncomfortable, it doesn’t actually affect your lung function, a new study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society has found.

Researchers reviewed over 70 published studies which looked at the effects of mask-wearing on breathing during physical activity and according to Insider, found no evidence that cloth masks or surgical masks disrupt lung function or reduce oxygen levels — even during exercise.

It was noted by the researchers that while the effort of the activity was perceived to be greater, they found no evidence of reduced blood flow to the brain or blood oxygen levels and no damage to heart or lung function.

“There might be a perceived greater effort with activity, but the effects of wearing a mask on the work of breathing, on gases like oxygen and CO2 in blood or other physiological parameters are small, often too small to be detected,” author of the study and a professor of medicine and radiology at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Dr Susan Hopkins, said.

Researchers also found that healthy people of all ages and genders were able to exercise safely with a mask found but they did note that those with severe cardiopulmonary diseases might find it far too uncomfortable and as such, should talk to their doctor before donning a mask during intense exercise.

Both cloth and surgical masks were found to be safe for use during exercise, with a cloth mask probably being the more comfortable of the two. For those who are yet to join the cloth mask bandwagon and are still using surgical masks, which the World Health Organisation deems single-use, there has been some movement in this area.

A group of scientists, aptly named “Adios Corona”, wanted to see whether a surgical mask could be reused safely. In order to explore this, the scientists left a mask in a paper envelope for seven days and found that 0.1% of the virus was detectable on the outside of the mask after one week.

While this method isn’t suitable for medical professionals who are exposed to high viral loads, Peter Tsai, the inventor of N95 electrostatically charged filter material, agrees that regular folks could use the seven-day method as a way to reuse surgical masks up to five to 10 times.

Tsai also recommended popping disposable masks into the oven, at a temperature of 70 to 75 degrees Celsius, as another method of killing any viruses or bacteria on the fabric without burning the plastic.

But, when it comes to disposal masks, avoid putting them into the washing machine as “washing without detergent may not wash away the virus,” Tsai said. “And washing with detergent will erase the (electrostatic) charges,” which in turn, will affect the mask’s effectiveness.

But, if you’d rather not try your luck with reusing disposal masks, we have a list of reusable masks to purchase that support small businesses in Australia as well as detailed instructions on how best to care for your mask so you’re washing and wearing it in a safe manner.

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