Along with social distancing, wearing a face mask is a critical component in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, masks make it more difficult to breathe. Some people even fear that wearing a mask while exercising may lead to too much carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood stream.
To help quell mask-related fears, I’ll summarize how masks may affect oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and give you some expert-approved tips for supporting your lungs.
How might masks affect breathing?
Our lungs allow for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is essential for the body to function.
Because masks cover the nose and mouth, they may make breathing difficult. Masks may even trap carbon dioxide, which could be dangerous for people who are CO2 intolerant, which means they can’t use their lungs as much and do not use O2 optimally.
Symptoms of CO2 retention (hypercapnia) may include rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, flushed skin, confusion, headaches, and dizziness.
Unless your mask is tightfitting and used for a prolonged period of time the risk of experiencing the above symptoms is minimal.
If you do experience any of the symptoms associated with CO2 retention, take off your mask while social distancing and breathe deeply.
To help you strengthen your lungs over time and increase your tolerance to carbon dioxide, these four tips could help.
How to strengthen your lungs:
Exercise raises carbon dioxide, which is why we breathe more while exercising. Regular exercising can increase the strength and function of your muscles, and you will require less oxygen to move, and produce less carbon dioxide.
Exercise is important because it requires more metabolic activity. One can optimize this by doing aerobic exercises like hiking and running. You can also increase metabolic activity through strength exercises like squatting, pressing, and pulling.
To increase awareness of the diaphragm muscle, practice diaphragmatic breathing, belly breathing, and simple deep breathing. These techniques will get you closer to reaching your lungs’ full capacity.
To do this:
- Count how long your natural breathing, in and out takes.
- Slowly add one more count to every inhale and exhale.
- Do this until you can comfortably extend the time it takes to fill and empty your lungs.
- Improve your posture
Certain postures can interfere with respiration. To prevent this, stand strong while lifting the chest and opening the front of your body as you breathe deeply.
Don’t hunch over.
- Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is important for several reasons, including respiration. Drinking water throughout the day helps keep the mucosal lining in your lungs moist, which helps the lungs function better.
Breathing in excessive carbon dioxide is dangerous, especially for people with preexisting respiratory conditions. However, the risk of becoming hypercapnic from appropriately fitting cloth masks is low.
If you do notice dizziness, fatigue, or other symptoms of hypercapnia from prolonged use, separate from others, remove your mask, and breathe in fresh air.
That’s it for this week; see you all the next time.