A research team at the University of Saskatchewan has found using a mask, whether a disposable mask or reusable cloth mask, has no impact on exercise performance or on oxygen levels. The study, which was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, was conducted by Midale’s Keely Shaw, Scotty Butcher, Jongbum Ko, Gordon A. Zello and Phil Chilibeck at the U of S.  

“We know that gyms are typically indoor places where people would gather, and therefore are potentially there could be a lot of transmissions (of COVID-19) in those places, so we wanted to look at whether or not it would be feasible for policymakers to implement wearing face masks during exercise,” explained Shaw. The research shows that if there does need to be further shutdowns, gyms may be able to stay open if it can be shown you can wear a mask and still exercise, Shaw added.  

The test was done with a group of 14 people – seven men and seven women, and they did what is called a V02Max test on a stationary bike.  

“They are riding the bike, and it starts at a relatively low intensity, and then every two minutes the intensity goes up, up until the point where they physiologically and physically can’t go on any longer,” Shaw said to describe the test. While the participants were riding the stationary bike, their amount of oxygen within the muscles and the oxygen within the blood were monitored. The participants were also asked for their rating of perceived exertion throughout the test, which could last up to 12 minutes. 

The participants took the test three times on three separate days, and the order of whether they were riding with no mask, a disposable mask or a reusable cloth mask was randomized for each participant. 

Shaw said one of the criticisms they have seen has been the length of the test, saying a 10-minute V02 Max test isn’t like a regular gym membership. However, as someone who has taken the V02 Max test in the past, including as part of the study, Shaw said this is absolutely gruelling. 

“It’s a 10-minute test that feels like it took an hour and a half just cause it’s so intense,” Shaw explained.  

Based on this study, Shaw feels the gym exception for gyms doesn’t need to be in place. She pointed to a spin class in Hamilton that was the source of an outbreak in that city. The people at the gym did their due diligence with cleaning, but masks weren’t worn, and if masks were in place, the outbreak would have been smaller, or perhaps even not occurred.  

Another point of criticism Shaw took issue with was people wondering about a political slant or even funding of the study. 

“We didn’t receive any funding for this, we’re not on any sort of political agenda,” Shaw stated. “This is black and white science to be perfectly honest. We weren’t influenced by anyone or anything.”