Find out whether the CDC's new stance on wearing face masks in public applies to your outdoor runs.

By Renee Cherry
April 07, 2020
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Now that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends wearing face masks in public, people have been getting crafty and scouring the internet for options that won't take months to ship out. Wearing a mask isn't a huge hassle for the occasional grocery run, but if you're running outside, the new recommendation presents a bigger inconvenience. If you want to do your part to help slow the spread of COVID-19, but also hate the thought of running with fabric on your face, here's what you should know. (Related: Can I Run Outside During the Coronavirus Pandemic?)

Runner wearing a face mask amid COVID-19
Credit: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Should I wear a mask while exercising outdoors?

First off, the CDC's guidelines around coronavirus protection don't call for avoiding outdoor exercise, assuming you're not feeling sick. Don't hit up your running buddy, though. The agency has been stressing that everyone should practice social distancing by avoiding group meetups and trying to stay at least six feet away from other people.

If you decide to go on a socially-distanced run, whether or not you need to wear a face mask will depend on where you're at. The CDC's stance is that masks are necessary "whenever people are in a community setting, especially in situations where you may be near people," like "grocery stores and pharmacies." So if you don't tend to pass people on your runs, it sounds like you can still run without one.

"The importance of the mask is to protect yourself [and others] in settings where people are around," says microbiologist Dean Hart, O.D. "In a running setting, however, you are normally not running through crowds of people or in packed settings," he explains. "It's not necessary if you are running in desolate areas and maintaining social distance, but if you are going to be surrounded by people, I would suggest taking the precaution and wearing the proper mask." (Related: Should You Start Making and Wearing DIY Masks to Protect Against the Coronavirus?)

Whatever you decide, don't treat wearing a face mask as a substitute for social distancing. Keeping a physical distance from others is still the most important measure for slowing the spread of the coronavirus, Anthony Fauci, M.D. director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently clarified on Fox & Friends.

What are the best face masks for running?

With its new stance on face masks, the CDC is recommending the type of cloth face mask that's washable for everyday use. (FYI: Avoid buying up surgical masks or N-95s, which health care professionals need for adequate protection on the job.)

The CDC also offers two sets of no-sew face mask instructions as well as a more advanced DIY option. Each one is fine to run in, says Alesha Courtney, C.P.T., personal trainer and nutritionist. Though running with a mask on can take some getting used to, since it can affect your breathing, she notes. "For beginner runners, this may be challenging and at-home workouts may be your best bet," she explains. "Always listen to your body. If you find that you're out of breath or cannot breathe easily, slow down, walk, or for right now stick to home workouts." (Related: These Trainers and Studios Are Offering Free Online Workout Classes Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic)

Certain gaiters and balaclavas (aka ski masks) might also work if they fit snuggly and cover your nose and mouth, as recommended by the CDC. Just note that the agency suggests using multiple layers of cotton fabric in its homemade mask instructions. Traditionally, gaiters are predominantly made of spandex because of its elasticity. But non-cotton materials, in general, aren't ideal for homemade masks; they might make you sweat more, dampening the fabric and, in turn, making it more porous for pathogens like SARS-COV-2 to get in, Suzanne Willard, Ph.D., clinical professor and associate dean for global health at Rutgers School of Nursing, previously told Shape. If you want to buy cotton gaiters, there are a few options on Amazon and Etsy, like this 100% Cotton Knit Neck Scarf and this Cotton Face Mask.

If outdoor runs are the one thing that's been saving you from cabin fever, rest assured that the new face mask update doesn't mean you have to stop. Whether you should wear one boils down to how crowded your route gets.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. As updates about coronavirus COVID-19 continue to evolve, it's possible that some information and recommendations in this story have changed since initial publication. We encourage you to check in regularly with resources such as the CDC, the WHO, and your local public health department for the most up-to-date data and recommendations.


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