Sweat for the Health of it!
by Crystal Watson, MA, BKin, CSCS
Despite sweat being viewed as a stinky, embarrassing nuisance, humans NEED to sweat! It’s not only natural, it’s essential. Perspiring (aka sweating) is the mechanism that allows our bodies to regulate temperature by cooling us off. You can think of our sweat glands as personal air conditioning systems. The cooling effect associated with perspiration occurs when the salty liquid we call sweat, evaporates off our skin, turning into gas. Perspiration is crucial as it prevents us from overheating.
Interesting Fact: Anhidrosis refers to the inability to sweat normally. Unfortunately, if you don’t sweat, your body can’t cool itself. This condition can result in overheating, heat stroke, and even death.
What’s the stink on sweat?
Our sweat is made up of 99% water, while the other 1% is a mixture of salt, protein, and fat-based metabolites. Seeing as sweat is primarily composed of water, sweat is actually odorless. The odor we associate with sweating occurs as a result of our sweat mixing with the bacteria on our skin.
As for those yellowish sweat stains that ruin our favourite shirts? Those are often caused by the antiperspirants and deodorants, as they contain oils, fragrances and various other ingredients which easily absorb into our clothing. Therefore, when sweat ‘carries’ these ingredients onto our clothing, it creates those yellow ‘sweat’ stains (or more accurately antiperspirant/ deodorant stains).
Ever wonder what the difference is between antiperspirants and deodorants? Antiperspirants are designed to block sweat by causing our sweat glands to swell. This prevents sweat from being excreted. Deodorants on the other hand are meant to kill the bacteria on our skin (that our sweat mixes with) to prevent odor. However, many simply mask the smell.
Did you know we have over 4 million sweat glands, that cover the entire body, with the exception of our lips?!?
Why do I sweat so much when exercising?
For starters, it is concerning if you don’t sweat when you are working out. Understanding that sweat is primarily comprised of water, not sweating could indicate that you are dehydrated. Not only is adequate hydration needed for regulating body temperature, proper hydration allows our muscles and joints to function effectively. On the other hand, dehydration is associated with a number of symptoms including feeling tired, hungry, dizzy, and can cause muscle cramping. If you don’t sweat when working out, track your fluid intake. If it is adequate you should speak to a healthcare professional, as not sweating could be indicative of other health issues.
If you sweat when you exercise, that’s GREAT!!! Keep reading 🙂
Our muscles require energy (in the form of ATP) to contract (aka produce movement). A by-product of this high energy molecular process is the production of heat. As such, it makes sense that our bodies need to perspire, in an effort to ward off the extra heat produced by exercise. Increased rates and amounts of perspiration allow us to maintain appropriate core temperatures. In fact, through regularly participating in exercise, our bodies can become more effective at dissipating excess heat. This means that a well-trained individual will sweat more (and sooner), than an untrained individual working at the same relative intensity.
Keep in mind that everyone sweats differently. For example, you may sweat more than an equally fit counterpart, simply because you have more sweat glands. As mentioned above, your hydration status and diet will also influence the amount that you perspire. Furthermore, those with more muscles mass will have more heat production, and as a result will perspire more. Environmental factors, such as high humidity levels can cause increased perspiration. Additionally, medications can influence the amount one sweats. Regardless of the myriad of factors that can (and do) influence perspiration, it is important that we adequately rehydrate after a sweat session.
Remember sweat is 99% water! To ensure you adequately rehydrate, you will need to weigh yourself before and after your workout. Correspondingly, it is recommended that we consume 16-24oz of water (or electrolyte beverage) for every pound that was lost while exercising.
In closing, “the health benefits of sweating are worth getting hot and sticky over” (Katie Wells, wellness blogger). The benefits associated with sweating and exercises include; increased circulation, reduced stress hormones (such as cortisol), reduced risk of kidney stones, and improved mood. While this is not an extensive list by any means, sweating is known to be a great way to boost health. So, go get sweaty for the health of it!
American Academy of Family Physicians. (2017, May 11). Hydration for Athletes. Retrieved from https://familydoctor.org/athletes-the-importance-of-good-hydration/
Anna Roberts McMurray (n.d.). Why do you sweat? [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.active.com/fitness/articles/why-do-you-sweat
Kaite Wells. (2019, March 25). 11 Convincing health benefits of sweating [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://wellnessmama.com/285784/sweating-benefits/
Muth, N. D. (2017). Nutrition. In Bryant, C, & Green, D. (Eds.), Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals (pp.159-212).
Paige Smith (2017, August 23). Your Fitness level may determine how much you sweat. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/sweating-fitness-level_n_5924cdb4e4b0650cc01ff4ff