Icky, sticky, stinky. Most people have a love-hate relationship with sweat. We love a satisfyingly good sweat during a workout but not so much at a meeting or on a date. But sweating is not only good for us, it’s essential for our well-being.
Sweat it Out
Think of sweat as a built-in air conditioner. When we are too hot, our nervous system activates our bodies’ three million or so sweat glands. The released sweat—99 percent water and 1 percent salt-and-fat combo—moistens the skin’s surface, then evaporates to cool us down. The more intense the activity or the hotter and more humid the atmosphere, the more we sweat.
We can also sweat more with:
- Fever, stress, anxiety, fear, or embarrassment;
- Some medications and painkillers;
- Illnesses such as cancer, infections, hypoglycemia, and diabetes;
- Genetic predispositions or hormonal changes like menopause;
- Smoking and obesity;
- Spicy food, caffeinated or hot beverages, and alcohol;
- Heat-trapping, non-breathable synthetic clothing, such as polyester, acrylic, or nylon.
We have two types of sweat glands
Eccrine Glands cover most of our bodies, open directly onto the skin’s surface, and produce watery, odourless sweat. Regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, they are found in large numbers on the palms of our hands, the soles of our feet, forehead, cheeks, and armpits.
Apocrine Glands open into hair follicles found on the scalp, in armpits, and the groin area. Inactive until stimulated by hormonal changes during puberty, these produce a thicker, fattier type of sweat that results in body odour when it comes in contact with bacteria on the skin.
For thousands of years, saunas have been used to purify and cleanse the body, mind, and soul. Sweat lodges, used by Indigenous peoples in Canada for example, are sacred places of deep spiritual and cultural significance.
Today, people extol the benefits of using a dry, steam, or infrared sauna, heated between 70° and 100°C:
Increase circulation. As skin temperature rises, so does your heart rate and the amount you sweat as the body attempts to stay cool. Typically, you can lose over half a litre of sweat.
Exercise the heart. As circulation increases, your heart rate increases and blood vessels widen, similar to moderate exercise.
A 2015 Finnish study found that participants who used a sauna:
– 2 to 3 times a week were 22% less likely to experience sudden cardiac death than those who only used it once a week;
– 4 to 7 times a week were 63% less likely to experience sudden cardiac death and 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who only used a sauna once a week.
Relieve pain. Increased circulation helps reduce muscle soreness, improve joint movement, and ease pain from inflammation.
Relax and reduce stress.
Sweat Therapy Cautions
- Stay dry. Never drink alcohol before or during a session.
- Seek advice. Pregnant women and people with cardiovascular issues or those who feel ill should seek medical advice first.
- Drink up. Drink two to four glasses or water after to stay hydrated.
- Take it easy. First-time users should spend no more than 10 minutes in a sauna—and no more than 20 minutes for regulars.
- Supervise children. Healthy children ages six and up can use a sauna safely.
Toxin removal. There’s no evidence to prove sweating detoxifies the body. That process is handled by the kidneys, liver, and intestines. That said, a good sweat opens your pores, loosens dead skin cells, releases trapped dirt and sebum, and softens blackheads. The circulation boost assists with overall function and also delivers oxygen to your skin, leaving it glowing
Weight loss. Any weight loss immediately after a sauna is due to fluid loss and is replaced when you next eat or drink.
Ever wonder why some warmer climate countries tend to have a spicier menu? When it comes to cooling your body from the inside out, some foods are a natural:
Spice is (n)ice. When spice hits your tongue, nerve receptors register the heat and trigger a message to cool your body by sweating.
Hot spot. A spot of tea or other hot drink does the same thing.
Minty fresh. Menthol in mint sends your nerve receptors a frosty feeling. Infuse your water with mint, chop it into salads, or chew a fresh leaf or two.
Flushing foods. Try these water-saturated foods to lower your core body temperature:
Veggies: Cucumber, radishes, celery, zucchini, squash, broccoli, and asparagus
Fruit: Strawberries, papaya, mango, pear, apple, banana, watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe, and pineapple.
Did you know?
- Your sweat doesn’t stink! Sweat itself is practically odourless. The body odour we smell is the result of the chemical interaction that occurs when bacteria on our skin mixes with sweat.
- Underarm hair helps to keep skin dry to lessen bacteria and odour.
- Excessive sweating—known as hyperhidrosis—occurs when the body’s cooling mechanism is overactive, producing four to five times the amount of sweat you need.
- People can sweat from about one litre to several litres a day, depending on temperature and activity level.
- Physically fit people sweat more than those who are out of shape.
This article was published in The Good Life Magazine.