A couple wears face masks to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 while walking in the Eddie Hart Savannah, Tacarigua on Tuesday.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled it a health hazard to wear masks while exercising.

On its website listed as a “fact”, the WHO’s guidelines warn, “People should not wear masks when exercising, as masks may reduce the ability to breathe comfortably.”

It explained, “Sweat can make the mask become wet more quickly which makes it difficult to breathe and promotes the growth of micro-organisms. The important preventive measure during exercise is to maintain a physical distance of at least one meter from others.”

Legislation on the mandatory use of masks in T&T came into effect on Monday.

Under the new law, among other stipulations for mandatory use of masks to curb the spread of COVID-19, is the mandatory use of masks during fitness activities.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi told a news conference Monday that once a person was in a public space, a mask was required.

In recent weeks T&T has presented a steady increase in positive cases in T&T, standing at over 2,000 cases yesterday.

One medical doctor and former Minister of Health who had been singularly lobbying against the use of masks during exercising believed maybe now that WHO had issued the guideline, the Government would change its stance.

Dr Fuad Khan said wearing a mask in general prevented the inhalation and exhalation of gases through the nose and mouth.

“What it does to certain people, it decreases the oxygen partial pressure in the air surrounding the mask and it can cause someone to become very light-headed due to a build-up of carbon dioxide,” Khan explained.

Regarding its use during fitness activities, Khan said, this posed even greater health risks.

“When you are exercising, you tend to run faster…you breathe faster and your inhalation and exhalation is faster, so you cannot in any recognised time or system use a mask while exercising,” he related.

Describing the use of masks as detrimental to one’s breathing capabilities during exercise, Khan added, “Your lung tidal volume will decrease and will increase with a lot of partial pressures of carbon dioxide rather than oxygen and you will end up with a blood carbon dioxide level that is above the normal level in someone with no health problems, worst yet for someone who has respiratory, asthmatic or nasal conditions or who are mouth breathers.”

Khan said it was not an easy thing to wear a mask because it was like walking or running with a closed pin over one’s nose. And noted that with the use of a mask during exercise, one also ran the risk of having unnatural increased heart rates.

Meanwhile, certified fitness coach Iziah Kanhai, said he agreed with the risks mentioned by WHO and Khan, especially as it relates to the average person.

He, however, indicated other factors would contribute to the degree of the risk. Some athletes, for example, train with elevation masks to build endurance and improve cardiorespiratory fitness by restricting airflow

But for the layman he maintained caution, notably for those with underlying respiratory, blood pressure and other health issues, in which case, wearing a mask while exercising could pose a health risk.

Kanhai explained for the average person he did not recommend wearing a mask during forms of high-intensity training such as HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and cardio where the heart rate is elevated for sustained periods and the oxygen demand for one’s body is increased.

“That type of training, opposed to lower intensity forms of exercise, like hiking or walking where the heart rate is not as elevated, you could stand to be at greater health risk if you wore a mask,” he advised.