The Performance Guide to Face Masks & Exercise

Sports are fun, and everyone can benefit from the endorphins released by a good workout, to say the least. Here’s a breakdown of how and why masks work, when to wear protective gear, and how to get the most out of your workout.

Should I Wear A Mask While Playing Sports?

As COVID-19 continues to spike around the country, wearing face masks remains crucial for public and personal health, as we try to mitigate the virus’ spread. As scientific research on COVID-19 develops and progresses every day, checking the CDC guidelines regularly is always a good idea for staying up-to-date.

What we do know is that the virus is airborne, which means that wearing a mask, social distancing, and ensuring fresh air circulation are paramount. Spending time in well-ventilated, outdoor spaces and away from crowds is ideal, which is great news for anyone who enjoys an active lifestyle.

Wearing a Face Mask: Outside versus Inside.

A quick recap on how and why face masks work: If you’ve ever been outside on a cold day, you’ve seen your breath in a cloud of air as you exhale. This visual reference can be helpful when thinking about how masks work. You inhale a cloud, you exhale a cloud.

Outdoors, especially if there’s any kind of breeze, a “breath cloud” is dispersed rapidly. That means any unwanted particulates in the air are less likely to make their way into your lungs. If you’re indoors, with less ventilation, the “breath cloud” disperses into a smaller volume, so it is much easier to inhale air that was just exhaled by somebody else. This is what we’re trying to avoid.

Even with a mask on, it’s better to be outdoors than indoors. 

If you must go inside, wearing a face mask keeps some of the droplets and aerosols that you exhale inside the mask, reducing your contribution to indoor pollution. Additionally, some of the droplets and aerosols that you breathe in are trapped by the mask, protecting you from receiving them. Bottom line: wear a protective mask.

Is it dangerous to wear a face mask?

No. When you breathe, you inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Your body produces a certain amount of carbon dioxide every minute, in relation to how much oxygen you’re consuming.  When you exercise, you’re breathing more heavily, taking in more oxygen and as a result, producing more carbon dioxide (as opposed to when you are sitting at your desk, for example).  There is a certain amount of stale air in the mask, but it’s not very much to worry about. If your mask fits well around your face, there is less room to “store” your exhaled air inside the mask. Look for masks with elastic and/or adjustable ear loops to ensure a good fit.

For example, when choosing a mask for running, a form-fitting sports mask is a great option because the slim fit is designed for breathability (i.e. low stale air or “dead space”), especially during aerobic workouts when you’re breathing more intensely. 

Should I (or my children) wear a mask when playing group sports?

Yes. Even when playing outside on a breezy day, it is better to wear a mask. If you’re running around on a baseball or soccer field, air circulation is better than it would be in a gym or a yoga studio. (And if you’re a parent watching on the sidelines, you should definitely wear a mask, and try to stand upwind for maximum air circulation).

Solo versus team sports.

The more contact you have with other people, the more valuable the mask is. Wearing a face mask decreases the amount of virus that you might unknowingly be exhaling, and filters out some of the virus that you might inhale from others.

A solo activity like cycling poses less of a risk than one like basketball where you share air space, but it’s still good practice to wear or at least bring a mask for running and cycling, especially because you never know who you might bump into while you’re out. Another example is tennis: you can keep plenty of distance while playing, but you still want to be prepared with a face mask for chatting before and after the match.

What makes for a good sports mask?

From a technical aerobic perspective, a mask is actually easier to breathe in if it’s closer to your face. This is because a closer fit reduces the amount of stale air trapped between the mask and your face.  Elastic ear loops are great for an effectively snug fit, as are breathable materials such as our DuPont SILVADUR™ Antimicrobial cotton.

At the end of the day, a protective sports mask is one that fits snuggly, stays dry and comfortable, and most importantly, that you’ll wear.

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