Over the past few months, we've all had a crash course in face mask usage. Since the CDC began recommending them for public use back in April, we've learned just how effective face masks can be at curbing the spread of coronavirus, leading businesses like restaurants, stores, and gyms to require them of patrons and staff.
As the new rules are put in place, we've heard more and more rumors that the cloth face masks used by the public are dangerous for your health and especially for your lungs. This isn't true, and in fact, face masks are completely safe to wear even when you're exercising — and yes, that includes sweat-pouring, lung-heaving cardio like running.
Is It Safe to Run in a Face Mask?
Though exercising or even walking in a face mask might feel uncomfortable, "there's no evidence to suggest that at any point you're not getting enough oxygen," said Kathryn Melamed, MD, a pulmonary critical care physician at UCLA. She acknowledged that it can feel harder to breathe when you're wearing a face mask, and that "this is going to be exacerbated and exaggerated when exercising," but that neither of these things mean that you're being deprived of oxygen or suffocated by your own carbon dioxide. "These masks are meant to filter air particles, but not filter oxygen and carbon dioxide," Dr. Melamed said. If you're worried about the feelings of discomfort, some experts recommend going for short, masked-up "trial runs" near home to get used to it.
Should I Run in a Face Mask?
Right now, the best practice is to bring a face covering any time you go for a run, even outdoors. "If you're on a remote trail not within six, 10, even 20 feet of an individual, you can be safe without a mask on," Dr. Melamed said. "But of course, if you're running or exercising outside, you can never be sure if someone else is going to cross your path." Even if you don't expect to see anyone on your run, tuck a mask in your pocket just in case. If you're on a treadmill at a gym, you should have your mask on — some gyms are even requiring it.
This is because you can put others at risk if you run without one. "When you're exercising, you're breathing more quickly and more forcefully, which is going to expel more droplets," Dr. Melamed said. "You're actually probably at higher risk of disseminating a virus, should you be a carrier at that time." This is true especially if you're running on a treadmill indoors, where virus transmission is even more likely. Another factor to consider: making sure your mask fits snugly and won't shift while you run. "You're moving around and sweating, which can change the position of the mask and can also get the mask wet, which makes it less effective," Dr. Melamed explained. Here are breathable face mask options to try.
It's all about running in a way that's safe for everyone, which means wearing your mask even when it's not comfortable. "Exercise is extremely important for physical and mental health," Dr. Melamed said. "But you also want to be safe for yourself and safe for others."