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Canadian study finds masks have no effect on exercise performance or oxygen levels for healthy individuals

University of Saskatchewan researchers say healthy people should wear face coverings while working out indoors

Photo by: Unsplash/David Marioni

COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan have surged this week, as the province recorded 984 active cases. In response, the provincial government has implemented a new mandatory indoor mask rule for the major cities—Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert—which took effect Friday. Though Saskatchewanians in these cities will be required to wear masks for most activities, the rule exempts those who are exercising in gyms, spin classes and ice rinks.

Phil Chilibeck, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan says that physical activity should not be exempt from the new mask rules. “In closed gyms, there is a good potential for COVID transmission,” he said to CBC.  “People should be wearing masks. It should be the rule.”

RELATED: Dr. Bonnie Henry labels spin classes “dangerous” due to COVID-19 risk

Chilibeck and a team at the University of Saskatchewan recently published a study showing that mask use has no effect on exercise performance, oxygen levels or any other exercise factors for healthy individuals.

Spinning with masks

The study found that even three-layer coverings, such as disposable medical masks, had no effect on performance.

Participants did a ramp test on stationary bikes and wore either no mask or one of a variety of mask styles. The results were consistent in both power output and endurance in every condition.

“This is important when fitness centres open up during COVID-19 since respiratory droplets may be propelled further with heavy breathing during vigorous exercise and because of reports of COVID-19 clusters in crowded enclosed exercise facilities,” said the study.

Another study published in September in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, came to a similar conclusion, stating: “In healthy subjects, aerobic exercise with either a surgical mask or N95 respirator is safe and feasible.”

Spin classes in B.C. and Ontario

On Friday, B.C.’s provincial health officer highlighted the risks of indoor spin classes, citing outbreaks of 20-30 people stemming from the classes. Hamilton On. also saw a large outbreak when Spin co. Hamilton was the source of spread for more than 80 cases of the virus. Some spin studios have taken their sessions outside, but, as colder weather moves across the country, the future of the indoor spinning classes is uncertain.