Ester Marsh: The importance of sweating

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 25, 2023

By Ester Marsh

With the weather being exceptionally warm for this time of year (I love it!), our bodies’ response to staying cooler is sweating. Even when it’s cold (which most likely will return before it truly warms up), your body will still sweat to regulate your core temperature while exercising, but it might evaporate before you see it or even freeze if you are exercising outside! Many people complain when they sweat, however sweating is important for several reasons.

Sweating keeps your body from overheating as it secretes fluids that evaporate and the body starts to cool down. There are two different sweat glands, the eccrine sweat glands which are located over the whole body (an average person can have 2-4 million sweat glands!) and the apocrine glands which are mainly located on scalp, armpits and genital area. Besides the importance of regulating the body temperature, it also expels toxins to support a proper immune system. It kills viruses and bacteria that cannot survive at temperatures over 98.6 degrees. When sweating, your pores are being cleaned, preventing or eliminating blackheads and acne. Typically a female has more sweat glands but the males sweat glands tend to be more active and produce more sweat. Wearing dri-fit materials while working out helps wick away the sweat so it can evaporate. Natural materials won’t do this; they get wet and stay wet.

But don’t “sweat it” when you are sweating when exercising (or being in a hot environment). Besides all the important reasons mentioned above, sweating after a good workout or class really boosts your endorphins, the “feel good” hormones. If you don’t sweat at all during exercise there can be the following reasons:

You are not working out hard enough. This is where we get in our target heart rate — 60-85% of your maximum heart rate. Max heart rate is 220 minus your age, take that number and take 60% and 85% (trained individuals can go 90-95%) and this is your target heart rate zone. Many people exercise below their target heart rate and are really not getting the physical benefits during their workout and typically don’t sweat. An easier way to figure it out is perceived exertion. On a scale of 1-10, one being you are not doing anything and 10 you are ready to pass out, you should be between 6 and 8.5 or 9.

Another reason for not sweating can be dehydration. Too many people don’t drink enough fluids such as water. The best way to see if you stay hydrated is to weigh yourself before your workout and afterwards. For every pound lost you need to replace it with 16-24 ounces of fluid. The big myth is that many people think wearing clothing or suits that make you sweat a lot, makes you lose more weight. Many studies have been done and your body will lose more water by sweating extensively. However, the poundage lost will be replenished when you rehydrate. And the reason it is sweating so much because it’s trying to keep your core temperature down and it’s being hindered by excessive clothing or the sauna/plastic suits. Not only can it be dangerous because you can get severely dehydrated, your intensity of your workouts decrease because of overheating. And to top it off, fat burn decreases because your body prefers carbohydrates for fuel instead of fat when overheated. If you choose to wear it, perform short workouts with low intensity and when in a public gym/YMCA, please clean up after yourselves and hydrate accordingly.

So how much should you drink? I typically tell people drink half of your body weight in ounces in one day. So at 134 pounds, I should drink 67 ounces of fluids a day. I have gotten so good about drinking water after my surgery. It not only tastes great, it keeps my throat moist and taste balanced. To avoid having a slushy stomach before exercising drink, 15-20 ounces two hours before your workout. Then hydrate, before, during and after your workout, taking small sips throughout. Certain medications can prohibit sweating; it could be a symptom as part of a group of symptoms from certain conditions. So check with your doctor if you are concerned about sweating too much or the lack of it. If you are not able to sweat, your body can’t cool itself and working or exercising in high temperatures can be very dangerous, putting you at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Sweating is good for you! As mentioned above, be respectful, one of the unofficial fitness etiquettes is to clean up after yourself when you sweat, whether you wear a sauna suit or not.

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.