If there is one question that got people talking on our Fit Fatties Forum, it would have to be the question about sweat. Love it or hate it, folks sure seem to have strong feelings about it. Sweating seems to have a lot of connotations in our society. Fitness magazine covers and ads for expensive tennis shoes tend to feature muscle-bound bodies glistening with sweat. (Hint–there’s a good chance it’s oil or Photoshop.) In this context sweat seems to indicate health, discipline and beauty. If a larger body is shown sweating in the media it is often used to denote someone who is out of shape. And if somebody not in exercise clothes is shown sweating it often seems to imply that person is being dishonorable or dishonest. (Remember “Tricky Dick” sweating during the presidential debate? Well, me neither, but I’ve seen footage…)
So unless you’re a fitness magazine cover model, you might find that you are not in love with the idea of sweating. But my dear chicklettes, I’d like to help change your mind about that. Because sweating is actually pretty awesome.
Nerd Alert: How Sweat Cools the Body
Perspiration is how our brain helps us to cool ourselves or regulate body temperature. Fluids, made mostly of water, but also of minerals and a small amount of waste product, are excreted through the sweat glands and the pores in our skin. Sweating pulls blood away from the body’s core and toward the surface of the skin, and then (poof) the sweat evaporates. The change from liquid to vapor requires heat energy, which is drawn from the surrounding atmosphere, namely the body. Heat is pulled out of the blood and skin, and your body cools down. In fact, each gram of evaporated sweat cools a liter of blood about one degree Fahrenheit. So as a cooling mechanism, sweat is pretty darn awesome.
Other Benefits of Sweat
You’ll hear a lot of people talking about how sweat removes toxins from your body. And this seems to be true to some extent. However modern science seems to indicate that the claims for sweat as a detoxifier are somewhat exaggerated. That said, sweat does seem to help clean your skin, and helps to keep it soft and supple. Sweating also raises your heart rate and helps burn calories. (Some estimates are as high as 300 calories per hour, just from sweating.) Sweating does seem to help with stress as it warms and helps relax the muscles. And some believe that sweating helps strengthen the immune system by helping to generate more white blood cells in the body.
But Doesn’t Sweat Stink?
Sweat in and of itself doesn’t really smell bad. When sweat is allowed to stay on the skin over time, it can interact with bacteria on the surface of your body and cause an unappealing smell. So as long as you wash relatively soon after you exercise, you probably won’t smell too bad. In fact, there is some research that indicates that an ingredient in male sweat (that acts as a pheromone in other animals) helps raise a hormone in women that gets them hot and bothered. So sweat, can even be sexy!
So sweating (even a lot) can be very healthy. In fact if you’re doing a lot of exercise and getting very warmwithout sweating this can be a sign of a condition called anhidrosis. This condition can be quite dangerous as it prevents the body from cooling properly and can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you get very warm but don’t sweat during vigorous exercise (especially in humid climates) you may want to see your doctor and get it checked out.
Later this week, I’ll be talking about sweating comfortably during exercise. But in the meantime, my damp little chicklettes, I say enjoy getting all sweaty. Revel in it and wear it as a badge of honor.
The Fat Chick