Training & Nutrition

Is Sweating Good for You?

We get a little hot and bothered over the facts about sweat

Sweating is something that many of us feel uncomfortable with: society has billed it as disgusting and unfeminine, and that’s why we can feel conscious about this incredibly natural biological function.

There is also a lot of rubbish on the internet, mainly from alternative health websites, about the ‘benefits’ of sweating. Here, we’ve tried to cut through all the bull and give you the lowdown on what sweat is and why you do it.

What is sweat?

Sweat is a colourless saline moisture excreted by the sweat glands. You have between three and four million sweat glands on your body, and they fall into two categories: eccrine glands, which are spread all over the skin; and apocrine glands, which are found in areas like the armpits and around the genitals. These develop during puberty, as they are also the means by which the body releases odourless pheromones. Wink wink.

Sweat does not usually smell. If you eat or drink certain things, like garlic or alcohol, then the sweat excreted from the eccrine glands can have a bad scent. Some medications can also cause this.

When it comes to your armpits, it’s not that the apocrine glands excrete smelly sweat, but rather that these glands produce sweat that is high in protein. Bacteria on your skin find it easier to break this kind of sweat down, sometimes resulting in body odour.

Why do you sweat?

We don’t just sweat from exercise

Your body is trying to regulate its temperature. That’s the reason. It’s a simple as that.

You sweat, then the sweat evaporates from your skin and cools you down.

Here’s a number of situations in which your body needs to engage in a spot of thermoregulation, therefore making you more likely to sweat:

1. Exercise, of course! Going for a ride raises your body temperature, promoting sweating. Remember that you’ll lose fluids through this process, so it’s best to drink plenty of water.

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2. Hot weather. Thus, people who live in hotter climates don’t have quite the same hang-ups about sweat as we do here in the UK.

3. Eating spicy foods tricks your skin receptors into thinking they’re hot, making you sweat.

4. Emotional stress. Like when you get a runny nose when you exercise, sweating caused by emotions like nervousness is governed by the sympathetic nervous system. It’s in charge of your flight-or-flight responsiveness – so it tells your body to cool off because it’s in a stressful situation.

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5. Sickness. Unsurprisingly, when you become sick with a fever your body temperature goes up and you sweat in order to bring it back to normal. Diseases like diabetes and angina can also cause sweating, in addition to some medications.

What are the benefits?

There is one benefit to sweating: it cools your body down.

A cursory Google of ‘the benefits of sweat’, however, can make for very confusing reading. There are alternative health websites that say that sweating could potentially help your kidneys and enable you to ‘detoxify’. There are also many sites that end up conflating the benefits of sweating with the benefits of exercise more generally.

But the evidence for “sweating it out” being good for you in any capacity apart from thermoregulation is negligible. The kind of exercise that makes you sweat is good for you, not the sweat itself.

Does increased sweating mean increased performance?

Probably not, although it is a good biological cue that your workout is effective.

But what is confusing is that better athletes in the world do sweat more.

So Laura Trott probably sweats considerably more than you do, but if you try and sweat more to be like her (turning up the heat, not using a fan while on the turbo trainer), it will not improve your performance.

Sweating is reflective of how much work you are doing; your fitness cannot be improved by or measured by, how much you sweat.

So, is it good to sweat?

Well, yes. It’s great to sweat because it means you’re doing exercise. But sweating in and of itself isn’t really that great.

And remember…

The image of a woman sweating while exercising being ‘gross’ is entirely constructed. Thank goodness that the #ThisGirlCan campaign is trying to change this perception.

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