The physiological effects of face masks during exercise


Despite the gym closures and lockdown inconsistencies, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important strategy to protect yourself during the coronavirus pandemic1.

Even if social media chatters and opinions mismatch, reality doesn’t change: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask or cloth in public, especially in places where it is Social distancing is difficult and mass masking is an inexpensive and easy way to complement social distancing and other methods of controlling infection rates.

Research also shows that gyms, like many other public spaces, are a source of virus transmission2 and that masking should be part of the exercise and training experience. This is especially true if the activity is aerobic3.

Researchers at the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa, Israel, studied the physiological effects of face masks during exercise to assess the effects on the student.

They found that masking during aerobic exercise had minimal and statistically inconsistent effects on heart rate, breathing rate, breathing, and blood oxygen saturation.

However, use of an N95 ventilator indicated an increase in EtCO2 (End Tidal Carbod Dioxide) levels, a measure of carboxy dioxide production and clearance with breathing. This increase could also be explained by the fact that when a mask is worn, the exhaled air is inhaled again.

Granted, airway exposure to elevated levels of carbon dioxide can affect performance, cause headaches, confusion, stupor, and increases in heart and breathing rates.

Short term and intermittent exposure can also lead to improvements in respiratory muscle development and better performance.

The research does not examine the effects of wearing masks from a psychological point of view, and it is not broad enough to draw specific conclusions about any particular populations, since it is an all-male group of subjects. It is therefore best not to generalize the results.

But you can just stay out of the slipstream of anyone exercising vigorously and keep your distance 4.

It used to be called an ounce of prevention that today looks like a million years ago, at a time when people’s opinions about anything are extremely polarized.


1. Epstein, D., Korytny, A., Isenberg, Y., Marcusohn, E., Zukermann, R., Bishop, B., Minha, S., Raz, A. & Miller, A. (2021). Back to Training in the COVID-19 Era: The Physiological Effects of Face Masks During Exercise. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport, 31 (1), 70–75.

2. Gontjes, KJ, Gibson, KE, Lansing, B., Cassone, M. & Mody, L. (2020). Contamination of the common room and the rehabilitation hall with multi-resistant organisms. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 68 (3), 478-485.

3. Leung, NHL, Chu, DKW, Shiu, EYC, Chan, K.-H., McDevitt, JJ, Hau, BJP, Yen, H.-L., Li, Y., Ip, DKM, Peiris, JSM , Seto, W.-H., Leung, GM, Milton, DK & Cowling, BJ (2020). Exhaling the respiratory virus when exhaling and effectiveness of face masks. Nature Medicine, 26 (5), 676-680.

4. Blocken, B., Malizia, F., van Druenen, T. & Marchal, T. (nd). Towards an aerodynamically equivalent COVID19 1.5 m social distance for walking and running. 12.