Not long ago, a Chinese man suffered shortness of breath and had to undergo surgery when his condition worsened after a jog with a mask on for 2.5 miles in Wuhan, the city of the coronavirus outbreak. It was reported that the man, who had started jogging a couple of weeks ago, suffered from a collapsed lung, known by its medical term pneumothorax, which happens when air leaks outside the lungs.
Earlier, two teenagers were reported to have died in separate incidents when they were taking part in track events as part of two distinct physical examinations while wearing masks to protect themselves from the contagious infection.
While it is not clear whether putting on masks while running and jogging caused these incidents, experts from the medical as well as fitness field are of the opinion that high-intensity exercises like running and jogging must be done with extreme caution while wearing masks.
But, why is that? In general, any cardiovascular activity increases one’s breathing which results in the person panting and then even breathing from the mouth. With the mask covering one’s mouth, the flow of air through the nose is constricted and even the breathing from the mouth is difficult, which might result in trouble for some.
Dr Ravi Shekhar Jha, senior consultant and head of the department, pulmonology, Fortis Escorts Faridabad explained how it happens. “A tight fitting mask like N95 adds inspiratory resistance which increases the work of breathing. A mask which is not valved, changes the blood gas equation, and it leads to a special phenomena called PEEP (Positive End-Expiratory Pressure). This PEEP may lead to pneumothorax (punctured lungs), especially when there is too much strain on lungs, like when we are running, or doing strenuous exercise,” he said.
So, is it advisable to jog or undertake running with a mask on? While Dr Jha suggested one look for a mask with a valve which has an “expiratory port” so that when one breathes out heavily, like during running, airway resistance is increased only mildly. Dr Animesh Arya, senior consultant, respiratory medicine, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute cautioned against high-intensity running. “Jogging or running fast is an activity in which more oxygen is needed to meet the extra demand of energy of the body, and wearing a mask while running is not advisable as a person may find it difficult to catch required oxygen and may faint. Hence, if at all one needs to jog or run, prefer stationary jogging at home near the window, in the garden, balcony or lawn without a mask. Crowded places for jogging must be avoided,” he said.
Twenty seven-year-old Ankush Kumar, who jogs for at least nine kilometres every day in Central Delhi, initially had breathing troubles with an anti-pollution mask and now has switched to surgical masks (and changes them every two days) that help him manage his breathing better, especially in the “shoot phase or the last leg of the run”, he shared.
So, are surgical masks a better option? “N95 masks should be avoided as they are primarily for healthcare workers, and other surgical masks are worn to save others if we have any type of infection. In daily life, one can wear simple double-layered cloth masks. Before going out of the house, make sure it is not too tight or too lose and covers the required area. Follow every other required precaution as well and stay safe,” asserted Dr Arya.
Given the current situation of the pandemic which demands all of us to wear mask and follow proper social distancing norms, certified fitness trainers like Sameeran Chetia believe it is better to indulge in low-intensity exercises. “Due to the prevailing situation, people have started using masks and scarfs to cover their mouth and nose. It’s good to see people becoming socially responsible towards each other. If people want to wear a mask while running, then I would suggest they do low-intensity exercises. They can opt for walking, brisk walking or slow jogging which will put less strain on their breathing. I personally wouldn’t recommend high-intensity running,” he commented.