Exercise in times of COVID-19 To wear a mask or not?
The "new normal" promises to give us back a little of what the pandemic took from us. Exercising outdoors is one of those things. It must be remembered that according to the authorities: the pandemic is not over yet.
For that reason it is important to adapt to this new reality. That means learning to do the activities we like without putting ourselves or other people at risk.
Nury Barrera, a graduate in physical therapy, explains that before returning to exercise in public spaces we must raise awareness and not go out if we have any symptoms. We also should not do it if we live with someone diagnosed with COVID-19.
If this is the case, then we must follow medical recommendations, even when many public spaces reopen. If you are sick you must isolate yourself. If you live with a COVID-19 patient, it is necessary to continue in quarantine.
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To wear a mask or not?
The use of face masks is recommended as a measure to stop the spread of COVID-19 from sick people to healthy people. But some scientific studies have shown that there are people infected with the virus who do not develop symptoms. Infected people without symptoms could unknowingly spread the infection. That is why some health authorities consider the use of face masks as mandatory when in a public space.
Although wearing a mask reduces the risks of contagion while we exercise, it can also reduce our ability to breathe normally.
For this reason, the WHO points out that: “It is NOT convenient to wear a mask to do physical exercise, because it could reduce the ability to breathe comfortably. In addition, the mask can become moist more quickly with sweat, which can make it difficult to breathe and promote the growth of microorganisms. The important thing to protect yourself during physical exercise is to stay at least one meter away from other people.
According to Nury Barrera, when you put something over your mouth and your nose, the passage of air is limited. This can cause anxiety or a little dizziness in some people, especially at the time the exercise is being performed. This makes the athlete get tired earlier and all this has an impact on the individual's physical activity.
However, the specialist recognizes that the most important thing is to follow the measures established by the authority, since the objective is to take care of everyone's health. We must not forget that wearing face masks is not a measure that replaces respiratory hygiene, healthy distance and hand washing.
According to the text published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine (BMJ), on June 12, sports specialists Jessica Hamuy Blanco and Dina Christa Janse pointed out that "masks that restrict airflow can increase the rate of perceived exertion and decrease performance during resistance training.”
Specialists also point out that the use of face masks can "simulate the physiological effect of altitude training, although on a smaller scale." What they consider is unlikely to be a problem, unless it's intense training sessions or done by people with other health problems.
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"People with existing heart or lung conditions would be wise to exercise at a lower intensity than usual while wearing a mask, to avoid adverse events," they note.
They also advise those who exercise with face masks to be aware of their breathing. This way they can slow down or take a break if they experience dizziness or lightheadedness.
If you decide to exercise with a mask, the surgical type is the best option
Nury Barrera points out that these unpleasant sensations depend on the type of face mask you use and other factors such as time and climate.
“Personally, I would not recommend doing strenuous exercise with a mask on, especially with an N95 because this type of mask does not allow air flow well. On the contrary, with a surgical or medical mask you have a little more air and it will allow you to have better oxygenation, ”she points out.
For this reason, Nury Barrera says that from his point of view “to exercise, the best option would be a 3-layer surgical mask. It is designed to contain bacteria and viruses from the nose and mouth and allows for better breathing. The specialist comments that "a tubular, which we athletes use a lot, is not designed to contain and some particle could come out."
In the British Journal of Sport Medicine article, the specialists also pointed out that selecting the right mask "becomes a balancing act of benefits versus potential adverse events."
The authors of the BMJ text also do not recommend filtering facepiece respirators, better known as N95s. It must be remembered that the authorities have asked to reserve this type of protector for health professionals, or people in direct contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients.
The BJM text says that a mask with two layers of material is considered sufficient to balance effectiveness and comfort. The mask used for exercise should not have a tight seal to allow better air movement, but they reiterate that this will later increase the risk of droplet spread.
Specialists point out that due to the accumulation of moisture from our exhaled breath, cloth masks are likely to get wet during exercise. This is a problem because breathing through a dry mask is easier than through a wet one. For that reason, they coincide with the WHO recommendation to change the mask whenever it gets wet.
Social distancing is important
It must be remembered that the spread of the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 disease occurs mainly through drops of saliva or mucus that a person infected with the virus expels when coughing, speaking or sneezing.
The specialists also noted in the British Journal of Sport Medicine text that due to the increased rate and force associated with breathing during exercise, the risk of aerosolization and spread of virus-containing droplets could theoretically be greater.
The infectologist Uri Torruco had already told us that there is a study carried out in Belgium that indicates that a person who is running outdoors and sneezes, throws particles several meters above a meter and a half or two meters, which is the "trail ” that someone who sneezes while standing at a fixed point would throw.
"Hence the recommendation that, if you go running, leave a distance of more than 5 meters with the closest runner, or with the closest person, or make sure you run alone," says the infectologist.
Therefore, while you exercise, he considers that the healthy distance is at least two meters. In this case, a wider distance is considered because when you exercise you usually inhale and exhale with more force, as recommended by Nury Barrera.
According to the specialist, if a healthy distance is respected, there is no activity that should be avoided unless it is in a group or very strenuous. Running in line is also not a recommended activity for now.
Other tips before going out to exercise
If you are healthy and do not live with any COVID-19 patients, then you should prepare yourself before leaving. Nury Barrera recommends bringing some toilet paper and a plastic bag. Why?
“When we exercise we suddenly tend to spit or blow our nose. Those are the things that we must be very careful to try not to do”, explains the specialist.
For this reason, Nury Barrera suggests leaving well prepared with paper to clean yourself and a bag to dispose of it. Another important point is to stay hydrated. “The more hydrated you are, the less mucus and therefore fewer particles you tend to produce,” she explains.