‘Don’t exercise with a mask on’ warns WHO

The WHO's warning against exercising with a mask on flies in the face of government regulations, which say you must wear a mask in public at all times, even when exercising

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that people should not wear masks while exercising.

“Sweat can make the mask wet more quickly, which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of microorganisms such as viruses and bacteria,” it said.

“The important preventative measure during exercise is to maintain social distancing of at least 1 metre from others.”

However, with the government making it compulsory to wear masks in almost all public places, the possibility of this seems unsure within the South African context.

Halo emergency medical service chief medical officer Neville Vlok said people should consider using thinner masks when exercising or perhaps wearing a loose scarf.

He said exercising with thickly layered masks increased the levels of discomfort in breathing since “they restrict the amount of airflow even more”.

“When you wear a mask, the amount of oxygen you have access to is limited. One will surely have a problem breathing with a mask on with exercising because it requires more oxygen. Although it may not pose a severe medical danger to most people, it can mean great difficulty in breathing.”

Vlok said people with lung problems would be the most affected while exercising with a mask on.

“Their system is already working harder to ensure their ability to breathe without a mask on, exercising with a mask on will prove to be of great difficulty for them.”

He said most people with lung problems might have lower performance levels.

Vlok said generally there was a decrease in oxygen levels in the blood when a person is wearing a mask, the amount of this decrease would vary depending on the types of mask.

As a result of low oxygen-levels in the blood, a person might feel anxious, lose concentration, shortness of breath, a slight increase in heartbeat rate among other symptoms.

He said the symptoms were somewhat similar to that of an intoxicated person.

Vlok warned that wearing unwashed masks could result in sweat developing bacteria or skin rashes.

President Cyril Ramaphosa did not mention whether gyms and sports centres would reopen when current level 3 lockdown measures are expected to be relaxed.

The sector has been closed for three months now.

The Department of Health has not responded for comment at the time of going to print.

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