H. Walz, K. Won, B. Kojima, S. O. Henry

Pacific University, Forest Grove OR

Breathing, or mechanical ventilation, enables appropriate gaseous exchange between the external environment and cardiovascular system. Not surprising, physical exercise increases the demand placed upon the respiratory system. The demand may also be increased by any factor compromising gaseous exchange or increasing resistance to air flow, such as wearing a cloth face mask. Nonetheless, facemasks can be an effective strategy for mitigating the transmission of airborne pathogens. As physical exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of serious hospitalization related to COVID-19, it is reasonable to continue exercise regimens during a pandemic, even if wearing a mask. Until recently, there has been little research on this topic. PURPOSE: Investigate the physiological effects of wearing a cloth facemask during light-to-moderate physical activity, using heart rate (HR) and rate of perceived exertion (RPE) measures. METHODS: In random and repeated experimental design, 20 healthy adults (13 female, 7 male; age = 20.65 ± 0.67 yrs) completed three paired rounds of a Forestry step test (six trials total) within one week. The step test required participants to step on a box (male step ht = 40 cm, female step ht = 33 cm; cadence = 90 bpm) for 5 min total. Each round consisted of a no-mask control (CONT) and two-layer cloth facemask (MASK) condition, with rest period between trials and HR continuously recorded via wearable electrode-based monitor. Steady-state HR during the last 90 sec of each step test trial was used for analysis. Participants reported RPE via Borg scale immediately after each trial. Paired t-tests compared HR and RPE for CONT and MASK conditions (a = 0.05). Study was Institutional Review Board approved. RESULTS: For the given submaximal workload as established by the step test, steady-state HR for MASK (129.67 ± 22.93 bpm) was higher than CONT (125.27 ± 22.55 bpm) (t19=3.18, p<0.01). Similarly, RPE for MASK (11.13 ± 1.7) was higher than CONT (9.63 ± 1.5) (t19 = 5.47, p<0.01). CONCLUSION: Wearing a facemask during light-to-moderate exercise resulted in elevated HR and RPE, suggesting a higher physiological challenge for the same physical workload. These findings have implications for exercise testing and prescription, depending on mask status.

Supported by Pacific University Research Grant.

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