Thankfully, such discomforts likely can be minimized by judicious mask choice and fitting, says Christa Janse van Rensburg, a professor of exercise science at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, who wrote the commentary about masks with her graduate student, Jessica Hamuy Blanco.
Avoid paper, surgical masks altogether during exercise, she says, since they rapidly become wet when we breathe into them vigorously and lose some of their ability to block outgoing germs. Cotton cloth masks likewise dampen easily. Cloth masks made from breathable, synthetic materials should lessen moisture buildup. Choose models, though, that “have two layers of fabric or less,” she says, to avoid facial overheating and any bunching of the cloth that might constrict breathing.
Some exercisers may prefer neck gaiters (also called buffs), which can be pulled up over the mouth and nose but remain open at the bottom, increasing air flow. “This can be good from a comfort point of view,” Dr. van Rensburg says, “but perhaps with the trade-off of less-effective infection control.” Look for gaiters in summer-weight fabrics, not those designed for use during skiing.
Plan, too, to carry extras of your preferred mask if you will be exercising for more than about 30 minutes, Dr. Bryant says. Even breathable fabrics become drenched at that point and should be replaced. Try not to touch the front of the used mask, since any viral particles you came into contact with could have accumulated there, he says, and after removal, pack or dispose of it carefully.
Some athletic clothing companies, including Under Armour, Koral, Zensah and others have begun to manufacture masks for use during exercise. You may need to try several models to find the one that most comfortably fits your face and exercise routine, Dr. Bryant says.
But do not be deterred in the interim from wearing a mask if you will be exercising around other people, he continues. Wearing a mask can be particularly important if you are exercising indoors at a gym, where air circulation is less likely to dissipate the virus.
“I know some people find them unpleasant” while running or cycling “and there are controversies” about whether they should be mandatory. “But I look on masks as an opportunity to be a good citizen and show that you care about the well-being of others,” he says, even as you bolster your own well-being with a workout.