should I wear a face mask during exercise

Should you wear a face mask while running outside?

Even amidst the coronavirus pandemic and the changes it has imposed on daily life, running outside remains an option for exercise, depending on where you live. Of course, your runs should be in secluded areas or areas where it's easy to maintain six feet distance from other people to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

In general, running outdoors is pretty safe, and there is no scientific consensus around the importance of wearing a mask while exercising.

Are workout masks actually necessary?

You might notice that tons of people in your community are wearing breathing masks for running while exercising outdoors. But is doing so actually necessary? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), asymptomatic spread is still a concern, meaning you may be able to spread the virus to others without knowing you have it, and others may be able to spread it to you.

This is why the CDC recommends that everyone wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are challenging to maintain, such as inside grocery stores, to help reduce the spread of the virus from people interacting in close proximity. As states open up, local governments have encouraged everyone to wear masks when they go out in public for essential activities. Many businesses also require that customers wear masks to shop.

What do all these recommendations mean for runners and other athletes looking to exercise outdoors? Simply put, running face masks may not be necessary if you can maintain at least six feet of distance from other people at all times. Avoid running in crowded areas, and if your usual route suddenly has other people there, you should find a different place to go or try a different time of day. There is no real advantage to wearing a face covering if you aren't going to be near people.

Scientists also agree that the risk of transmission is low if you're just passing someone while running outside. This is because the air volume outside tends to dilute any exhaled virus and the wind may help carry it away. However, wearing a mask is still important if you are exercising in crowded areas.

What happens if physically distancing yourself from others isn't possible?

Even if you're trying to practice physical distancing while running solo, it isn't always possible to maintain a six-foot distance, especially on popular routes and trails. If you want to wear a workout mask while running in an area where you might encounter other people for prolonged periods of time, wearing a Buff gaiter or other moisture-wicking face covering may reduce droplets being spread to others due to heavy breathing, coughing, and sneezing. If you feel more comfortable wearing a mask while running, then you probably should.

What kind of running mask should you wear?

The CDC recommends that the general public wear cloth face coverings instead of surgical masks or N-95 respirators since those should be reserved for healthcare workers. You can either make your own cloth mask or purchase a moisture-wicking bandana and neck gaiter.

Because runners tend to sweat and breathe hard, it's crucial to choose a mask that is breathable and wicks away sweat fast. Otherwise, breathing and sweating into your mask can make it more unsanitary. Make sure your mask fits snugly over your nose and mouth. Once you place it on your face, you shouldn't touch your mask. Be sure to either wash or discard your mask immediately after use as well. Remember that wearing a mask isn't a substitute for physical distancing, hand washing, or remaining at home when you have symptoms.

References
  1. "Do Runners Need to Wear Masks?," New York Times, May 31, 2020.
  2. "Should I Wear a Mask While Running?," Runner's World, June 17, 2020.
  3. "Yes, You Should Wear a Mask When You Run," Self, May 4, 2020.

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