I grew up hearing the old adage, “Horses sweat, men perspire and women glow.” Unfortunately, my sweat glands have always marched to the beat of their own drummer. I find that just stepping outside during a summer heat wave results in large beads of sweat dripping off my forehead into my eyes. Engaging in physical activity leads to a full-fledged sweat that quickly soaks my clothes.
That brings me to a couple of questions: Is sweating while exercising bad for you? And is there a problem with too much sweat?
The benefits of sweat
Sweating’s primary health benefit is that it helps keep the body from overheating. The intensity that you sweat is tied to how vigorously you exercise, which creates internal heat. Perspiration carries this heat to the skin’s surface so it can evaporate, thus lowering your body’s temperature. In fact, more than 80 percent of metabolic heat leaves the body through sweat evaporation. Common places where we sweat include underarms, palms, soles and forehead, all of which have a high density of sweat glands.
Some experts also believe that sweating may help your body get rid of waste caused by cell metabolism. However, this mechanism is much less pronounced and is secondary to sweat’s main purpose of cooling your body.
Experts don’t understand why some people sweat more than others. They believe that it’s a physiological variation based on individual differences in the body. Humidity also can cause you to sweat more since your sweat doesn’t evaporate as easily from your skin in these conditions.
Any time you’re physically active (and especially when it’s hot outside), it’s important to make sure you consume enough fluid, especially water. Athletes actually have a greater need for fluid and need to realize that thirst alone won’t tell them if they’re adequately replenishing their fluid levels. Iowa State University cautions, “Thirst is a biological indicator of dehydration; however, dehydration has already occurred when an athlete becomes thirsty. Even a small drop in body fluids (1 percent of body weight or 1.5 pounds in a 150-pound person) can impair performance.” Additionally, altitude also can increase your need for fluid intake.
Therefore, it’s important to make sure you get enough fluid, which can include cold beverages that have moderate amounts of sodium and/or sugar in desirable flavors. Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach recommends the following:
- Start hydrating several hours prior to exercise.
- Consume fluids during exercise to prevent excessive dehydration.
- After exercise, focus on drinking fluids to replace any fluid or electrolyte deficit.
- However, beware of over-hydration if you have high sweat volumes and high sweat salt concentrations.
The group also provides more detailed recommendations on fluid intake, which may be helpful for those who exercise regularly in the heat.
Sweat and certain medical conditions
While excessive sweating often is associated with strenuous physical activity, along with warm temperatures, this type of sweating also can be tied to a condition (such as stress, an overactive thyroid, generalized anxiety, a heart attack or hot flashes in menopause) or disease (such as diabetes, endocarditis, HIV/AIDS, leukemia, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and tuberculosis). You also may sweat excessively if you have focal hyperhidrosis, which isn’t tied to an underlying condition. Therefore, if you find that you’re sweating more than you previously did, it would be a good time to check with your doctor to make sure that nothing else is going on in relation to your health.
Controlling excess sweat
Assuming that you don’t have any condition or disease, how can you safely control your sweat levels? Here are several tips for controlling sweat:
- Use an antiperspirant rather than a deodorant.
- Use baking soda, which is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, on your body to control sweat.
- Use dry shampoo on your scalp.
- Invest in moisture-wicking active wear.
- Take a cold shower.
- Have underarm hair removed by lasers.
- Consider specific medical treatments if you are prone to excessive sweating.
Primary sources for this sharepost:
Guglielmetti, P. (2012). Don’t Sweat It – Tips to Control and Reduce Sweat. Fitness.com.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. (ND). Fluids.
Mayo Clinic. (2012). Excessive Sweating; Symptom.
Reynolds, G. (2013). Ask Well: Is It Good to Sweat? New York Times.
Shape.com. (2012). Why Do I Sweat So Much When I Work Out?