How masks affect your lungs during cold-weather exercise – with some surprising perks!
Outdoor winter workouts come with many added benefits, including sweating less and using less energy. Additionally, you may increase your endurance and performance, and being outside gives you an added dose of vitamin D that can help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
With masks now an essential part of our workout gear, you may wonder what cold weather exercising means for your lungs. Should you be concerned?
Pay attention to your body
If you are in good health, you should not be concerned about working out in the drier, cooler air with a mask. “Some people find it difficult to breathe in cold weather with or without a mask, while others have an easier time, so it’s really a mixed bag,” explains Dr. Michael B. Finkelstein, an internal medicine physician with Scarsdale Medical Group. If you are in the group that finds yourself short of breath during wintertime pursuits, it’s important to consult with your physician, who may suggest medication to help. “Some people with asthma might actually experience fewer bronchospasms while walking or exercising in the cold, because mask-wearing helps humidify their breath preventing vasoconstriction or narrowing of the lung’s passageways,” adds Dr. Finkelstein. Keeping the mucous membranes of the mouth and nose moist also helps to trap viruses before they reach the lungs, he says.
Consider a mask insert
The heavier you’re breathing in the cold air, the more saturated your mask will become from sweat and breath, leaving it less effective. Hockey players who’ve been taking to the ice all summer have been using silicone mask supports to keep the mask away from touching their nose and mouth, preventing accumulation of moisture and allowing easier airflow. “Just make sure that the mask still fits snugly against your face with no gaps for proper protection,” says Dr. Finkelstein. “If you are running in an area that is not crowded, you might be able to get away with a sports mask with a valve – but this is not recommended if you are in areas where you cannot maintain social distancing.”
“Staying hydrated is the key,” notes Dr. Finkelstein. “Many people tend to drink less in the winter because they don’t sweat as much and aren’t as thirsty. Wearing a mask may also dissuade you from drinking even more, because you try to avoid taking your mask down when people are around you.” Make it a point to replenish fluids regularly when out in the cold weather. This also helps to avoid “mask mouth” – when the lining of your mouth dries out. The less saliva in your mouth, the less clearing out of bad bacteria and neutralizing of acids from food, which can lead to plaque, cavities and bad breath.
De-fog your glasses
You don’t want to be outside soaking up the sun’s healing vitamin D without good eye protection, but this is a common challenge while wearing a mask. Face masks direct much of the exhaled air upwards where it gets into contact with glasses leading to fogging. A study in the Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England found a simple method to prevent glasses from misting up while wearing specs or sunglasses:
- Immediately before wearing a face mask, wash the glasses with soapy water and shake off the excess.
- Then, let the eye wear air dry or gently dry off the lenses with a soft tissue before putting them back on. Now the spectacle lenses should not mist up when the face mask is worn.