Summit County surgeon says there is no danger to wearing a mask while exercising |

Summit County surgeon says there is no danger to wearing a mask while exercising

A masked biker navigates the Peak One Trail in Frisco on June 5.
Liz Copan /

DILLON — Despite a mask mandate already in place in Summit County, Gov. Jared Polis’ mask order July 16 did change one thing locally: Facial coverings now must be worn when exercising indoors in public gyms and studios.

Although some community members raised concerns about wearing a mask while exercising, Dr. Aaron Black, a local orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at Panorama Summit Orthopedics, explained that exercising with a mask is not dangerous but that it does have an impact on oxygen intake, which can affect a workout. 

“It’s something that certainly decreases the amount of oxygen that you can get while you’re working out, especially during high-intensity activities or in heavy aerobic things that are done indoors,” Black said.

Black noted that people exercising at sea level sometimes wear masks to simulate high-altitude training. Black said the effect of wearing a mask while exercising is that you probably can’t achieve the same level of intensity or duration of a workout that you normally could achieve. Also, recovery between bouts of anaerobic activity can be affected. 

To adapt to exercising with a mask, Black recommended taking more time between sets of a workout, such as sets of lifting weights in the gym. For aerobic exercises, such as running or riding a stationary bike, Black said a person wearing a mask might have to decrease resistance or slow their pace but can increase duration to achieve the same distance or calories burned. A mask is also likely to lead to a slightly higher sustained heart rate, Black said, which allows for “good aerobic training.”

As for a type of mask to use while exercising, Black called for a “happy medium,” or a mask that falls between more restriction and more airflow.

“The more restrictive the mask, hypothetically, the better filtration it has,” Black said. “But the main purpose for the mask is to protect other people from the virus you may be asymptomatically carrying. We know even thin cloth masks … are easier to get more air through, (but) they probably filter a little less well. So it’s a trade-off. You’re probably going to get a better workout with a mask that filters less, but it’s also probably a little bit less efficacious.”

He noted that masks always should cover the mouth and nose.

He said exercising while wearing a mask is also not dangerous for people with baseline respiratory diseases but that it might be harder to tolerate a workout. Black said there is no evidence to suggest that people are at a higher risk for pulmonary edema due to mask-wearing.

Overall, Black said wearing a mask is one of the most important things people can do, along with physical distancing, to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

He pointed out that he wears a surgical mask while performing surgeries, which can sometimes be fairly physical when it comes to fractures or joint replacements. Black said the mask does not impede his work.

As for visitors arriving from lower elevations who might struggle with the altitude, Black said they should be honest with how they’re feeling and be willing to go into any physical activity knowing it is OK to walk away from a workout — whether a mask is necessary or not.

At the Silverthorne Recreation Center, Guest Services Coordinator Tiffany Novak explained that, when the recreation center first reopened, masks were required when entering and exiting the center and when physical distancing could not be maintained. But following Polis’ order last week, the center had to change its policy to require masks at all times.

By the next morning, the new rule was put into place. Novak said Fitness and Wellness Coordinator Renee Rogers stood outside explaining the new rule to guests before they reached the front desk. Novak said the staff worked to update signage and website messaging as well as send emails to alert gym users about the change. 

Novak said the center has heard feedback from both sides. Some people say they don’t feel comfortable exercising with a mask and have opted to exercise outside or at home. There also has been a lot of feedback from gym users who support the change. One member even canceled his membership because masks were not required and renewed after the new rule took effect, she said.

“I think, overall, people took it pretty well,” Novak said. “It wasn’t a huge shock. People kind of knew it was coming with the governor order.”

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