Face Masks
Physical activities and face masks both help protect people from COVID-19 that has been spreading across the world. However, the combination could also put people at risk of serious health problems.

Health experts recommend that people stay physically active amid the coronavirus pandemic to boost the immune system. Face masks are also recommended to protect people from the virus that spreads through droplets from infected individuals.

However, exercising and wearing face masks at the same time can be a bad combination. That is because of potential breathing challenges that could affect performance and even cognitive function.

"A mask makes it harder to inhale the quantity of air needed to perform at the highest levels," Lindsay Bottoms, of University of Hertfordshire, said in an article posted on the Conversation. "We know that wearing a surgical mask can increase the resistance to airflow. Exercise invariably leads to faster and harder breaths, so wearing a mask during exercise places a further strain on airflow."

The increased breathing and lower airflow would require more effort to do low to moderate-intensity physical activities. People may face more challenges when doing heavy exercise.

Muscles produce lactic acid that causes a burning sensation and is converted to carbon dioxide. As we all know, the body releases carbon dioxide but wearing a face mask could interfere in that cycle.

Those who use masks designed to block tiny particles are likely to rebreathe carbon dioxide. The recycled air may give the body less oxygen and reduce cognitive function and increase breathing rate, according to Bottoms.

One example of the bad effects of face masks during intense exercise happened recently in China. Two teenage boys died within a week following a compulsory physical education examination that required them to use facial coverings, the Australian News Channel reported.

Comment: Two Chinese boys reportedly die within week of each other while wearing face masks in gym class
The pair of incidents, which occurred just six days apart, have prompted calls to cancel the term's running exams amid coronavirus concerns and possible breathing difficulties brought on by the face masks — which are required to be worn by many governments worldwide in a bid to slow the illness' spread.

To understand how face masks affect breathing, Bottoms conducted a test with and without a facial covering and compared her oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

She ran on a treadmill at 10 kph for three minutes and measured the concentration of gases being breathed in and out using a gas analyzer. Results showed that her oxygen concentration reached 19.5 percent when running without a face mask and 17 percent when wearing one.

When she measured carbon dioxide, she found that level without a mask was only below 1 percent. But with a facial covering, the number increased to 3 percent.

The United Kingdom's Health and Safety Executive recommends that employees should not be exposed to 1.5 percent carbon dioxide for more than 15 minutes to avoid its negative effects on the body. During intense exercise, people are more likely to spend more time with face masks on.

"With gyms looking to reopen and sports clubs wanting to resume, before anyone recommends wearing a face mask, research urgently needs to be undertaken to ensure the safety of the sporting community, regardless of any underlying conditions," Bottoms said.