Study: Facemasks Do Not Impair Lung Function During Physical Activity

Those wearing a facemask while exercising may feel an increased sensation of dyspnea, however, there is little evidence that this medical condition is occurring.

Facemasks do not impair lung functions during physical activity, according to a study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Facemasks have been a crucial tool in the effort to limit the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by reducing the respiratory droplets and aerosols released into the air when people laugh, talk, breath, cough, or sneeze. However, despite their benefits, concerns have been raised that masks make it harder to breath by altering the flow of inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide by increasing dyspnea.

According to the scientific review, there is no evidence that wearing a mask significantly diminishes lung function, even when worn during heavy exercise. Mask wearers may feel an increased sensation of dyspnea, however, there is little evidence that this medical condition is occurring, according to the study.

The one exception exists in patients living with severe cardiopulmonary disease, in which any added resistance to breathing or minor changes in blood gases could prompt dyspnea great enough to affect exercise capacity. The study authors said that these individuals should discuss facemasks and exercise with their care providers. It should also be noted that these patients are at an increased risk if they contract COVID-19, and that should also be considered.

"There might be a perceived greater effort with activity, but the effects of wearing a mask on the work of breathing, on gases like oxygen and CO2 in blood or other physiological parameters are small, often too small to be detected," said first author Susan Hopkins, MD, PhD, professor of medicine and radiology at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, in a press release.

The study also found that in healthy people, the psychological burden of wearing a mask was minimal, no matter what type of mask was worn or the intensity of the exercise. Age and gender differences were not found to have significant influences on results in adults.


Exercised over nothing: Masks don't impair lung function during physical activity [News Release] November 16, 2020; San Diego, CA. Accessed November 17, 2020.