Regardless of weight or fitness level, we all sweat (although some more than others). For many, it's welcomed as physical proof of exertion. Whether you prefer running, spinning or hot yoga, there's just something exhilarating about finishing a grueling, sweaty workout.|
But have you ever wondered what exactly causes sweat, and what happens to our bodies in the process of perspiration? Read on for all the sticky details.
The Benefits of Sweat
Keeping You Cool
At its core, sweating is the body's built-in cooling mechanism. "Our bodies have a normal internal temperature that ranges from 97.2-98.6 degrees Fahrenheit," says Ledbetter coach Kelsey Bowman, NASM-certified personal trainer. "When our internal temperature rises above that normal range, the body's natural cooling mechanism for removing heat from the surface of the skin is to evaporate sweat." This explains why you sweat less when exercising outside in winter or in air-conditioned gyms than in the summer sun.
Once sweat is released, it evaporates on the skin and provides a cooling sensation. That flush in your cheeks while sweating is caused by the blood coming closer to the skin to release heat in the form of evaporated water.
Keeping You Clean
While you may feel quite the opposite at the time, sweating is actually helping to keep your body clean. "The pores of your skin get clogged with oils and dirt. When you sweat, it's released through the skin and pushes through the pores to eliminate the dirt and impurities," explains trainer Cheryl Russo. As body circulation increases, sweat can also help to flush out toxins through the skin.
Keeping You Healthy
Could one good sweat a day keep the doctor away? A study at the University of Edinburgh showed that perspiration could in fact help protect you from getting sick. In addition to all those electrolytes, sweat also contains dermcidin, a natural antibiotic that helps fight the germs and bacteria that cause numerous illnesses.
Sweating is also kind to your kidneys. "Perspiration has been found to play a role in kidney health, preventing the buildup of salt in the blood that can eventually lead to kidney stones," says Mandy Unanski Enright of Nutrition Nuptials. "Frequent hydration also helps to flush the kidneys."
Keeping You Limber
If you struggle with stiff, sore muscles, sweating could serve as a natural remedy. "As you sweat, your body’s muscles are warmed by the heat and humidity of sweating," says Russo. "This helps to release the stress of muscle tension and fatigue."
The Sweating/Hydration Equation
Especially in summer, it's important to be aware of how much you're sweating and adjust your hydration accordingly. According to the National Athletic Trainer's Association, heat stroke is among the top three causes of death during sports activities. To stay safe, it's essential to replenish fluids lost through sweat.
"Many athletes sweat several liters in an hour of exercise, so the goal is to keep fluid loss to less than two percent of your total pre-exercise body weight," says Bowman. "If you're out in the sun, try to drink 4-8 oz. of water for every 20 minutes of physical activity outdoors. But remember that during exercise, you shouldn’t over-hydrate or completely prevent fluid loss. That can put you at risk for hyponatremia, a condition that occurs when your blood sodium levels are too low."
After a workout session, Bowman recommends hydrating by drinking three cups of water per pound of body weight lost. If you're a particularly heavy or salty sweater, you may opt for drinking a sports drink containing electrolytes instead.
Where Do You Fall on the Sweat Scale?
Ever noticed that some people just seem to sweat more than others? Genetics play a key factor in determining how much we perspire, but so do BMI and fitness level.
"Higher amounts of fat versus muscle mass will impact sweating," says Enright. "Fat tissue actually impairs the body's sweating efficiency, making it more challenging for the body to release excess heat." This means that people who are more fit will likely break a sweat earlier in a workout, as their bodies have been trained to self-cool more efficiently.
Is one gender sweatier than the other? "We're born with millions of sweat glands, but while women generally have more than men, men's glands are more active, making guys the 'sweatier' sex," says Courtney Collado, owner of Core Continuum.
As a pregnancy fitness specialist, Sarah Anne Kelly of MomTrainer.com notices that her clients sweat more during pregnancy, as their bodies work harder to distribute blood to the baby while also attempting to regulate the core temperature for exercise—which is why it's so important to stay hydrated and cool during prenatal workouts.
5 Surprising Facts about Sweat