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ISU Professor: More Study Needed On Mask Use In Sports, Exercise

Nelson Lemus, left, and Azucena Quintanilla wear masks while exercising at a gym in Los Angeles.
Jae C. Hong
Nelson Lemus, left, and Azucena Quintanilla wear masks while exercising at a gym in Los Angeles.

A sports science professor at Illinois State University says studies aren't yet clear on whether masks limit performance during aerobic exercise.

The Illinois High School Association plans to require basketball players to wear masks on the court this season.

ISU's Kristen Lagally said coaches should monitor how well their athletes can breathe during periods of high intensity competition.

“If a player was feeling uncomfortable, I would hope that a coach would make sure the intensity of the exercise or the exercise itself was stopped,” Lagally said. “You want to deal with this discomfort.”

Lagally added coaches will need to monitor their athletes closely and be prepared to scale back intensity.

“In a game situation, I think it could be super challenging in a variety of ways--it could be uncomfortable, it could increase the perceived exertion of the activity,” Lagally said. “I think it might be challenging to keep (masks) on their faces.”

The IHSA has added more timeouts during games to give players more recovery time.

Lagally recommends players have multiple masks to wear during each game because sweat makes them less effective.

The fate of the upcoming high school basketball season remains unclear. Many school districts in central Illinois are still assessing whether they will participate, while a growing number of schools don’t want to take the court until at least spring.

Lagally pointed to studies that indicate resistance exercise, such as weightlifting and other strength training, may be more impacted by wearing a mask than aerobic exercise, though she added there doesn’t appear to be enough substantive data on how mask wearing impacts breathing during high intensity activity.

“I would imagine that given the need for oxygen during aerobic exercise, that perhaps masks would be more limiting during aerobic exercise than it would be during resistance exercise,” she said.

Lagally added masks also may inhibit the body’s ability to release carbon dioxide that must be done at greater volume during exercise. She said it’s likely to be a greater problem for someone who has underlying health conditions.

“That’s a potential worry, whether it’s likely to cause problems I think is unclear,” Lagally said.

Shey said she was concerned masks mandates would limit physical activity, adding being able to socially distance and exercise outdoors has limited its impact. She said she hopes more study over the coming months will provide more clarity about the effectiveness of wearing masks during exercise.

ISU is conducting its own study to see how many students would be willing to use the Student Fitness Center on campus while wearing mask at all times.

Now, the facility is open by reservation only. Entrants must pass a wellness check at the door.

An excerpt of WGLT's interview.

You can also listen to the full interview:WGLT's interview with Lagally.

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ISU Professor: More Study Needed On Mask Use In Sports, Exercise

Copyright 2020 WGLT

Eric Stock is a reporter at GLT.