Sweating is your body’s means of cooling down. That’s crucial during a high-intensity workout, especially if you’re exercising outdoors or in a hot or humid environment. As you may have noticed, some people sweat more than others. Some guys and gals grab a towel every minute or so to dry their sweaty face or chest while others barely break a sweat even during a hard workout.
Sweating is only one way your body controls temperature. It actually releases heat in two ways. As your body heats up, more blood flow is diverted to blood vessels on the surface of your skin to boost heat loss. Secondly, your body rids your body of excess heat by sweating. It releases heat in this manner through the 2 to 5 million sweat glands on your body. The quantity of sweat you discharge through these glands during a workout ranges from only half a liter to 3 or 4 liters.
How much do you know about sweating? Here are some of the most common myths and facts about how and why we sweat. During a workout
Myth: You Sweat More When You’re in Bad Shape
One common misconception is that profuse sweating is a sign that you’re not in shape. Quite the contrary. In fact, athletes and other folks in tip-top shape sweat sooner during a workout than those who have a lower fitness level. This is especially true if you exercise in a hot environment. In the summer, it takes about two weeks of working out in a warm environment to become heat acclimated. Your body acclimates by increasing the plasma volume in your vessels so you can carry more fluid and heat to the surface of your skin to release to the outside. Plus, it reduces the release of electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, and chloride, when you sweat. Once you’re acclimated, your body sweats earlier during a workout and you’re more efficient at releasing heat. So, sweating early and sweating a lot could be a sign that you’re heat acclimated and in good shape.
Truth: Men Sweat More than Women
In general, men sweat more than women but it’s not because of gender. How much you sweat is not dictated as much by gender as by body size. According to a study published in LiveScience.com, the primary way in which smaller people release heat is by increasing blood flow to the surface of their skin. By releasing more heat directly through the skin, smaller people aren’t as dependent on sweating as a means of releasing heat. In contrast, larger people are more dependent on sweating as a way to lower body temperature. In general, men have a larger body size than women and depend more on sweating. Women, especially small women, sweat less because they’re better at releasing heat through the skin. An advantage of sweating less during exercise is smaller people can more easily maintain thermal balance without losing as much water and becoming dehydrated. How much you sweat is also influenced by how many sweat glands you have. The number of sweat glands you have can be as low as 2 million and as high as 4 million.
Myth: More Sweating Means You’re Burning More Calories
In reality, there isn’t a direct correlation between the degree of sweating and calorie burn. As mentioned, body size, the number of sweat glands, fitness level, and how acclimated you are to the heat influence how much you sweat. So, don’t measure the intensity of your workouts by how much you sweated.
Truth: Overweight and Obese People Are More Susceptible to Heat Stroke
Fat is an insulator that interferes with heat loss. To be released, heat has to make it to the surface of the skin. When there’s a thick layer of fat, it has a longer path to reach the surface and be released. Since fat interferes with heat loss, overweight and obese people are at greater risk of heat stroke when exercising in a hot or humid environment. In fact, heat stroke is 3.5 times more common in substantially overweight adults.
Truth: Sweating Helps Your Body Eliminate Toxins
You hear a lot of dubious claims about detoxifying but according to a study published in Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology sweating really does help your body eliminate some toxins. Another study, published in Scientific World Journal, showed sweating helps eliminate phthalate compounds that we breathe in and consume from sources like plastic every day. These chemicals cause infertility in animals and are believed to disrupt hormones as well. Keep in mind that many experts still argue that sweating doesn’t detoxify but there is now some evidence to the contrary.
The Bottom Line
The most important thing to know about sweating is that the more you do it, the more you need to focus on hydration and rehydration after exercise. To be sure you’re replenishing the fluid you lost during your workout, weigh yourself before and immediately after a workout. For every pound that you’re down, drink 16 ounces of fluid. If you plan on exercising for more than 90 minutes, grab an electrolyte-rich drink to help replace sodium, potassium, and chloride that you’re losing through sweat. Sweating during a workout may not feel good but it helps bring down your core body temperature. Not only is that important for your health, it helps reduce fatigue and helps you sustain exercise longer. So, be happy when you feel sweat dripping down your face! It’s like your own internal fan.
LiveScience.com. “Battle of the Sexes: Who Sweats More?”
WebMD.”Does More Sweat = a Better Workout?”
Exercise Physiology: Nutrition, Energy ,and Human Performance. McArdle, Katch, and Katch.
Medical Daily. “Sweat It Out! 5 Surprising Health Benefits Of Sweating That Actually Don’t Stink”
Arch Environ Contam Toxicol. 2011 Aug;61(2):344-57. doi: 10.1007/s00244-010-9611-5. Epub 2010 Nov 6.
Scientific World Journal. 2012; 2012: 615068. Published online 2012 Oct 31. doi: 10.1100/2012/615068.
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