Handled incorrectly, masks can hinder rather than assist your best efforts to protect yourself and others in the gym from the spread of COVID and other viruses. Dr Vincent Candrawinata PhD looks at how to make mask wearing an effective exercise.
A sweat towel, a drink bottle and a good pair of runners used to be the gym bag essentials, but in today’s climate a facemask is the new must-have accessory.
Any indoor activity involving close proximity to others carries with it a risk for transmission of viruses. Government regulations pertaining to social distancing and safety protocols, including mandatory gym floor supervision from hygiene marshals in some states, have been implemented to ensure that, despite the heavier breathing induced by exercise, those training and working in fitness facilities can do so in a COVID-safe manner. Face masks or coverings are another weapon in the war against the spread of the virus.
Type of mask
In the fight against COVID-19, there are three types of mask to be aware of:
This is the most restrictive type of mask, designed to have high efficiency filtering capabilities. Used in healthcare settings or in highly risky situations, it is not suitable for wearing when exercising. It is harder to breathe while wearing it, particularly during exercise, and wearers are also likely to adjust the mask frequently, rendering it useless (see section below on handling of masks).
A surgical mask is a loose-fitting, disposable device that creates a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment. A surgical mask can be comfortable enough for us to wear every day, including in the gym environment, because of the loose-fitting design. However, studies have shown that we do not need the facemask to be of surgical grade to protect us from COVID-19 in most social interactions, especially when some sort of physical distancing is still observed.
This is a physical barrier that we can wear over our nose and mouth to shield us from direct exposure to droplets. You can DIY this to make it as comfortable as possible, and it can also be washed and reused.
Face coverings of all types also stop us from directly touching our mouth and nose area, something we need to get used to.
Making your mask wearing effective
While facemasks are an important personal protection barrier, it is important to note that you have a higher risk of getting COVID if you wear a mask but don’t use it appropriately – especially because when people wear a mask, they tend not to observe strict physical distancing. This behaviour is evident in a new study from behavioural scientists at the UK’s University of Warwick, which found that, rather than exercising extra caution, people felt more comfortable sitting or standing closer to others while wearing a mask.
Regardless of what type of mask you are wearing, if mishandled, you can spread the virus from your mask to yourself. It is important, therefore, to follow some tips that will help you to use masks in a way that maximises safety for you and others.
Be careful how you handle your mask
If you go to your gym and opt wear a surgical facemask, dispose of it once you leave the premises. Do not take the mask into your car, do not put it back into your handbag or pocket and do not use your phone while wearing a mask (where your phone touches the mask or when you lower your mask to use your phone FACE ID). Place the mask in a rubbish bin and then sanitise your hands immediately. Alternatively, if you wear a reusable face covering ensure you have a resealable carrier for it and follow cleaning directions after every use.
The mask acts as a barrier and catches germs and viruses. If you touch the mask with your hands after wearing it, you are infecting your hands.
Use a mask that suits your face and skin type
When you do go out and need to wear a mask, ensure the mask does not itch or irritate you. You will only end up playing and fidgeting with it, increasing the risk of catching the virus from your mask.
Take care when disposing of a used mask
Carry a good supply of masks around with you in a ziplock bag in your handbag or pocket. Carry another ziplock bag clearly marked ‘USED’ to safely house the mask that you have worn before you wash it or dispose of it.
In addition to wearing a mask or face covering, and following the steps to ensure you do so safely, there are some other simple behaviours to support a healthy gym and home life:
Don’t leave home unless you absolutely need to
The reality is that the best way to avoid COVID is to not leave your home unless you absolutely need to. If you or your client is at high risk, conduct your sessions over-the-phone or on an online video streaming platform.
Set up your home to be COVID safe
Placing hand sanitiser at the front door is a good idea, because not all of us remember to wash our hands as soon as we get home from the gym. If possible, it is a good idea to invest in a coat rack for you foyer, on which to hang your gym bag and jacket rather than putting them on your bed or in your wardrobe with your clean clothes.
Boost your immune system
Viruses spread in the body by attaching to your cells and infecting them. There is a significant link between the behaviour of antioxidants and their impact on cellular health. In order to keep your immune system strong and boosted, ensure your active lifestyle is supported by good nutrition, which may also include antioxidant-rich supplements such as activated phenolics. Strong and healthy cells are less susceptible to viruses.
Wearing a mask is our way to do our part in this fight against COVID. It is a new habit that we have to learn to get used to, but it is a minimal invasion of our daily life compared to the significant benefits of slowing the spread of the virus.
The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare has simple, illustrated information on the correct way to put on facemasks. Click here to see more.
Dr Vincent Cadrawinata, PhD
Vincent is a researcher, inventor and entrepreneur in the field of food, health and nutrition. Recognised by the Australian government as an Individual with a Distinguished Talent in Research and Academia, he founded Renovatio Bioscience using patented technology developed during his PhD research. renovatio.com.au