Should You Be Wearing A Mask When Exercising Outside?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: May 13, 2020

In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) started recommending cloth face coverings be worn in public settings where it is difficult to maintain distance, and especially “in areas of significant community-based transmission.” This distinction is more clear-cut when it comes to picking up groceries or visiting the doctor; you’re in close contact, so mask-wearing seems logical and prudent. With outdoor exercise, however, the answer may depend. Assess the three questions below to determine if you should wear a mask during your next walk, hike, or run outdoors.
  1. Has your state mandated that masks be worn?
    Most, if not all, states have issued guidance based on the CDC recommendation. In Ohio, for example, face coverings are strongly recommended in public when social distancing is difficult. Some states, such as New York and Massachusetts, take this further and mandate face coverings to be worn in public wherever close contact is unavoidable. For example, if your running route is along busy sidewalks, it may be required by your state to wear a face covering. A more nuanced situation is a narrow hiking trail, where it may be difficult to distance 6+ feet from other hikers. Since this is an evolving situation, please check your state and local government websites for the latest information.
  2. Are you likely to encounter others while exercising?
    Walking, running, and biking are three popular forms of outdoor exercise that can either be done completely solo, or in close proximity to others. With all of these, it is important to assess the ability to socially distance along your exercise path. Running on the city sidewalk during peak times would be a clear case to wear a face covering, since the likelihood of encountering other people is high. On the other hand, a face covering may not need to be worn when exercising in an empty public park with ample space and broad visibility around you. In this case, it is still a good idea to bring a face covering with you and put it on if the situation changes, or if you begin to feel worried or uncomfortable about your surroundings.
  3. Are you comfortable exercising with a mask?
    It is no surprise that exercise, especially cardio-based, becomes more difficult with a mask or face covering. Your ability to inhale and exhale air becomes partially impaired, and this could affect your performance. Additionally, masks may impair your vision of what is low and in front of you, especially important when trail running. Understanding this, start out with an easier outdoor workout and increase the intensity as you adapt. If you still prefer to exercise outdoors without a face covering, it may be prudent to do so during off-peak hours or in deserted areas where there is minimal risk of encountering others. If you have respiratory issues or experience panic/anxiety when wearing a face covering, please consult your health professional on exercise alternatives.
It is important to remember that the purpose of face coverings is not to protect yourself, but to prevent aerosols from your nose and mouth from reaching others. Wearing a face covering conveys you are doing your part to reduce your risk to others. For tips on making your own face mask, check out this article. If you’d prefer to stay active while in the comfort of your home, try this 10-minute workout that requires no equipment.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.