Exercising with a mask in Dubai and Abu Dhabi: What you need to know

Fitness specialists suggest lowering a face mask if carrying out strenuous exercise but leaving it on if only out for a walk

Temperatures have begun to cool and the country's outdoor spaces are once again being used by the public for exercise.

As people slowly return to their daily routines, face masks remain mandatory along with a variety of other safety measures to keep Covid-19 from spreading.

Some activities are doable while wearing a face masks while others must be avoided.

In Dubai, health officials have said that masks can be lowered when carrying out strenuous exercise but what does this comprise? And what are the rules across the rest of the Emirates?

The National speaks to authorities and fitness experts for their advice.

Do wear a mask when:

Walking:

Walking is a great way for people who have fallen off their usual exercise routine over the past few months to get back into it.

But to go for a walk, even a power walk, is not a good enough reason to take a face mask off. Walking is not considered strenuous exercise.

Wearing a surgical mask is best when exercising outdoors because it feels light and will allow sufficient air flow, while still filtering out potentially dangerous particles.

Dr Gaurav Singh, a sports orthopaedic surgeon at Thumbay Hospital in Sharjah, said walking was a great example of a light exercise that can be easily maintained.

“There are some simple exercises you have to maintain,” he said. “You can go for a normal walk while wearing the mask.”

Practicing yoga or any other mat exercises:

Standard yoga practice can be carried out while wearing a face mask.

Dr Singh said it was important to take on activities that encourage proper stretching and breathing exercises, such as yoga, in these times.

He said such exercises improve mobility, help ease anxiety and are not considered strenuous enough to be done without a mask on.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, July 1, 2020.   Patrick Hegarty, Co-owner of Vogue Fitness at Yas Marina, Abu Dhabi.
Victor Besa  / The National
Section:  NA 
Reporter:  Haneen Dajani

Power exercises:

Taking part in power exercises, such as weightlifting, can mostly be done while wearing a face mask, said Patrick Hegarty, co-owner of Vogue Fitness in Abu Dhabi.

“Say you are doing a bench-press, it would be acceptable [to keep the mask on] if breathing is not restricted,” he said.

Such exercises, when done over a short period of time and while wearing a mask, may cause slight discomfort but will not compromise someone's health.

If using communal equipment, be sure to wipe them down with disinfecting wipes before and after use.

You can lower your mask when:

While jogging or running:

Doctors recommend people lower their masks while jogging or running – but raise it again when they begin walking.

Dr Singh said it was best that people momentarily stop if they feel tired and catch their breath.

“When we are doing physical activities, the oxygen level [in the body] should be higher,” he said.

“If you are wearing a mask you are not getting enough fresh air, that increases the chances of a syncopal attack – like fainting or dizziness.”

Masks should be correctly worn immediately before and after running, particularly if there are other people using the same public space.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, September 19, 2020.  Abu Dhabi residents do their early morning cardiovascular activities at the Corniche on a Saturday morning while trying to maintain social distancing.
Victor Besa/The National.
Section:  Standalone/Weather

While climbing the stairs

People who have taken to running up and down the stairs for exercise should not wear a face mask.

It is not recommended that this exercise is carried out indoors, however, as there is less ventilation.

Dr Singh, from Thumbay Hospital, recommends taking a few laps up and down the stairs to keep the body moving. But, like with running, an individual that feels tired should pause for breath before continuing.

When it becomes difficult to breathe

If someone loses their breath, it is best to stop, lower their mask slightly and take some deep breaths.

“It is advised to lower the mask below the nose if you’re finding it difficult to breathe,” said Mr Hegarty.

People might be reluctant to lower their masks and try fight off any discomfort, thinking they are protecting themselves against Covid-19.

But the opposite can be true; the cardiovascular system must be strengthened to avoid catching diseases like the coronavirus. Manipulating breathing can make someone more vulnerable to Covid-19 and other sicknesses.

While doing a high-intensity work out

“When you start moving to more intense levels of exercise, that is where the mask can restrict breathing,” said Mr Hegarty.

He said, in group classes, the warm up can be done with a mask on but once the workout reaches an intense level, masks should be lowered below the nose.

When doing any exercise that elevates the heart rate above 80 per cent:

Any physical activity that could significantly raise someone's heart rate should be carried out with a lowered mask or no mask at all.

“Long distance runs where your mask starts to get really wet and restricts breathing,” said Mr Hegarty.

Other exercises that could drastically raise someone's heart rate include spinning classes, which involve a high level of cardio and resistance, and functional training classes.

What is the government's health advice?

When training outside, residents must also be wary of the legal implications of lowering their masks.

Across the UAE, authorities stress that mask wearing is necessary in public places.

Exceptions generally include when performing strenuous exercise and outdoor sports, when sitting to eat, and while changing to a fresh mask.

Gyms across the country typically allow members to remove masks when training on machines and in a strenuous class, although it can vary.

In Abu Dhabi, officials said masks should be worn when exercising inside gyms and outside.

In Dubai, authorities have said that masks can be lowered when exercising in public.

Final call …

An individual must assess the situation and make a responsible decision for themselves and those around them.

Many factors need to be considered, including a person's fitness levels, whether the exercise is indoors or outdoors and if there are many other people around.

The health and safety of an individual and the wider public are the top priority. People should be considerate of those around them but also consider their personal safety.

A Dh3,000 fine for not wearing a face mask in public is still in place but the rules slacken slightly when exercising. This has been done to allow people to slowly return to normal life and work on their health and fitness but should not be taken advantage of. Masks should still be worn to and from the gym or before and after exercising in public.

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