The Centres For Disease Control (CDC) now recommends that all Americans wear cloth masks in public spaces to help prevent the spread the novel coronavirus. As a general rule, doctors suggest wearing a mask even while you're exercising, and cycling is no exception.
Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, an internist at Crossover Health in San Francisco and founder of End Well, told POPSUGAR that wearing a mask while riding your bike is especially important in densely populated areas. "If you're biking in a city where others are around you, you should wear a mask," Dr. Ungerleider said. Keep more than the standard six feet between you and others, and if you're ever feeling unwell, stay home.
"Breathing harder, like during exercise, may release more virus into the air as you're taking deeper and harder breaths," she said. This means it's possible that breathing during exercise causes more viral spread, especially if you're outside where the wind can blow, causing droplets to travel even further.
If you're biking in a more rural area where no one is around, it's safe to ride without a face covering, Dr. Ungerleider explained — but always bring a mask with you to have handy in case you cross paths with someone.
Although most healthy people can exercise with a face mask on, it can feel constricting, and you should remain mindful of your breathing. "It's important to know that wearing any kind of protective mask decreases the flow of air into your lungs, which equates to less oxygen in your lungs and into your bloodstream to your muscles," Dr. Ungerleider said. You may not be able to perform at the same level that you would if you weren't wearing a face mask. Dr. Ungerleider recommends paying attention to how you're feeling and to stop biking if you feel severely short of breath, lightheaded, dizzy, or experience numbness or tingling, as these could be signs that you're exercising too hard.
"Those who are new to biking or haven't exercised in a long time should take extra precautions if biking while wearing a mask," Dr. Ungerleider said. If you have a heart or lung condition, check with your doctor about the safety of exercising with a face mask before you head out for your first ride.
When selecting a facial covering, Dr. Ungerleider said you should choose the material that's most comfortable. "Different kinds of facial coverings have varying levels of airflow restriction, depending on the type and thickness of the material," she explained. For example, a layered buff or neck gaiter can be stretched over your nose and mouth. Those coverings are typically made from thinner, synthetic fabrics, which may feel more comfortable than a tightly knit cloth mask. However, she cautioned that the more comfortable coverings may not be as protective because air can more easily flow through them, which is why it's so important to be vigilant about maintaining distance. "Try out a few different types of masks and fabrics to see what works best," Dr. Ungerleider said.