Context: Masks have long been utilized to prevent the spread of airborne pathogens and diseases in the healthcare setting. Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, mask use has been expanded to all public areas to help slow the spread of this virus. One such location where masks can be seen is gyms. While exercising, the needs of the body are altered due to the increased stress being placed upon it. Normal physiology is thus adjusted to meet these new demands and to maintain optimal functioning. Therefore, it is possible that adding a mask covering the mouth and nose while exercising could further exacerbate this physiologic alteration, causing potential concerns.
Objectives: The goal of this study is to identify the impact of mask use on normal perceived physiology (breathing, heart rate, temperature, exertion, stamina, and quality of workout) within the exercising population.
Methods: To obtain data focused on the research question, a self-reporting, online, anonymous Qualtrics survey was administered in local gyms and social media outlets. A total of 280 total participants were recruited between the ages of 18 and 65 who have ever exercised while wearing a mask. All results were analyzed utilizing descriptive statistics, bivariate correlations, Mann–Whitney U tests, and Kruskal–Wallis tests. A Cronbach’s alpha was also calculated to check internal validity. The significance level utilized was p≤0.05.
Results: Completion of a Kruskal–Wallis test revealed statistical significance regarding the perception of masks in general and the participants’ rating of the perceived physiological parameters (breathing: p<0.001; heart rate: p<0.001; temperature: p<0.001; exertion: p<0.001; stamina: p<0.001; and quality of workout: p<0.001), the duration of time the mask was utilized during the workout, and the participants’ rating of the perceived physiological parameters (breathing: p=0.001; heart rate: p=0.020; temperature: p<0.001; exertion: p<0.001; stamina: p=0.001; quality of workout: p<0.001; and perception of mask: p<0.001), and the change in the number of days that the participants exercised per week during the pandemic as well as some of the participants’ ratings of the perceived physiological parameters (breathing: p=0.042; exertion: p=0.015; stamina: p=0.027; and quality of workout: p=0.016).
Conclusions: Any alterations to normal physiology perception while exercising with a mask appear to be psychological and adaptive in nature. Masks alone did not contribute to the perception of their physiologic changes.