As gym lovers and sports enthusiasts head back to their favorite activities, one of the adjustments they have faced is exercising with a facemask. Swirling around this much desired pandemic reopening has been the controversy over how safe it is to work out with something covering the nose and mouth.
Although they aren’t going to resolve the debate with a simple mini-experiment, a group of students in an advanced kinesiology class set out this fall to find out for themselves what happens during a workout with and without a face covering.
The students in Pete Bodary’s Scientific Inquiry Using Wearable Technology class represent one of four groups that came to campus to experience the lab-based course that uses the latest technology to study how movement and function impact health.
The movement science majors say it’s been good to return to campus as seniors, a year when students typically get more hands-on experience in the major and more face time with faculty. Although concerns about COVID-19 and the precautions they must take to be on campus haven’t thwarted those expectations, they certainly have altered reality a bit.
“I really looked forward to smaller classes where you get to work directly with the professors and with all of this really amazing technology, so it’s weird right now,” said Fiona Story, who hopes to work in injury rehabilitation after additional education in physical therapy. “Even when we have discussions you maintain a 6-foot distance from partners and from the professor, so it’s really strange.”
At the same time, Story and lab partners Madelyn “Madi” Moretti and Jesse Pollens-Voigt say being back on campus brings a sense of normalcy.
Pollens-Voigt, who plans a career in medicine, has two in-person classes and one simulated lab class. He said once he gets into the work he is able to get past the mandatory adjustments.
“There sometimes comes a point where you’ll forget you’re wearing a mask and forget everything that’s going on and it’ll feel like a normal class again,” he said.
Nearly 80% of University of Michigan credit hours are being taught remotely but a number of courses that involve labs, like this one, can’t be taught as effectively online.
The students say while the activities in their experiment—30 seconds each of jogging, squats, planks and walking up and down stairs—could take place anywhere, access to the sophisticated wearable equipment to measure its impact on the body would not be available remotely.
“For this class, the main component is getting the technology from the professor in person. The equipment that we are working with is very expensive and we’re so fortunate that Professor Bodary has it for us to work with up close and become familiar with,” said Moretti, a pre-med student. “Being able to communicate difficulties we have with the technology is also something important that we would not be able to do in an online format.”
The experiment the team designed checked respiratory and heart rates, and oxygen saturation in the blood with mask on and mask off using a Bioharness3 worn as a chest strap, a Biostrap worn on the arm (new technology that provides easier access to more raw data than a Fitbit or Apple watch) and a pulse oximeter.
Bodary, clinical assistant professor of applied exercise science and movement science and director of innovative teaching and learning, was a recent recipient of a $5,000 Kinesiology Donor Innovation Grant, which allowed him to purchase new technology, some used by the other groups in the class. In addition to what was used by this team, equipment includes a Stryd device, which allows detailed running metrics; a Moxy Monitor, which measures skeletal muscle oxygenation; and Athos smart garments to measure muscle recruitment and activation.
“I’m so happy that we are currently able to have (in-person) hands-on experiences for our course. It is especially great for students to be able to work with the technology and design these mini-experiments at a time when many traditional research experiences have been greatly curtailed,” Bodary said. “We have a classroom that provides a lot of traditional science experiences including developing hypotheses, reviewing the literature, collecting data and presenting and discussing results.”
The students note the field of wearable technology, already exploding in recent years with consumer interest in fitness wearables and other advances in technology, has taken on new importance in a COVID-19 world. In fact, Pollens-Voigt and Story are participating outside of the class in U-M studies that involve the smart technology they wear to measure potential markers for the virus.