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Work out while wearing a mask Image Credit: Sankha Kar, Gulf News

Dubai: As gyms reopen from Wednesday and people begin exercising with face masks, is there a risk of choking on exhaled carbon dioxide (Co2)?

Dr Arshad Altaf

Dr Arshad Altaf, consultant Pulmonologist at Prime Hospital told Gulf News: “The real problem is with the tight fitting N95 masks and as per Dubai Health Authority (DHA) guidelines, these are to be used only by health care professionals in hospitals. People are asked to wear surgical masks which allow for flow of air. What happens in tight fitting masks is that when we inhale and exhale, because there is little space for the air exhaled to escape as it has multi-layers of filters. A dead space is created and we end up re-breathing that same exhaled air which is high in Co2.”

He added that during exercise this problem got more exacerbated: “When we exercise the breaths per minute go up and as we exhale more, more Co2 is trapped in the dead space and we end up taking that in which can result in the individual exercising, gasping for breath.”

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Morning walk at Zabeel park in Dubai.Photo: Ahmed Ramzan/ Gulf News
Dr Sandeep Pargi

Dr Sandeep Pargi, specialist Pulmonologist at Aster Hospital, Mankhool, said it was rare for young people to actually feel breathless while exercising with a mask. But gave his own tips on how best to avoid any episodes of gasping or suffocation while working out.

He agreed, “In order to wear your mask and manage your exercise without choking on Co2 you need to avoid wearing a tight fitting. multi-layered mask and choose the surgical mask for a gym work out.

“In a public space like gym, for now choose, light to moderate exercise that is not anaerobic and makes you breathless. Choose a slower cross trainer work out, a bicycle or some light weights. If you do anaerobic exercise, be mindful that you are maintain social distance and can safely remove your mask for that time.

“It is recommended that you finish exercising at one station and do not return to it,” he added. “For instance, if you are doing weights finish that before moving as that section may have been sanitised for you and returning again later may not have all the hygiene precautions in place.

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Morning work out at Khalid Lagoon in Sharjah Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

“Do not go in for gym exercises if you already have suffered a respiratory episode or are recovering from a bout of lung infection or pneumonia. Restrict yourself to walking with a mask until you completely recover.”

Crucially, he added, “Remove the mask the moment you feel breathless, discontinue exercise and open a window close by to breathe in fresh air.

“It is precisely for these reasons that the Dubai Sports Council guidelines state, it is important to wear a mask during light or moderate exercises, but during high intensity anaerobic exercises (where one is literally gasping for oxygen), it is fine to lower or remove your masks (providing you are practicing safe distancing),” he added.

Dubai Sports Council guidelines for people opting for a gym workout

  • Keep a physical distance of two metres at all times
  • You have to make sure you wear a face mask while indulging in light or moderate exercise
  • You can lower or remove mask while doing high intensity exercise
  • Gyms to operate on 50 per cent capacity
  • Facilities to install separators, partitions between sports equipment
  • All equipment must be cleaned and sanitised after each use
  • Toilets and washrooms to be sanitised frequently
  • Waiting rooms, shower, Jacuzzi and saunas will not be opened
  • Gyms will not be allowed to permit children under the age of 12 and adults over the age of 60 years
  • Temperatures of all those who wish to attend the work out will be measured at the entrance and those with temperature, cough or breathing problems will not be allowed in