In a Sweat? Good for You!
Hello, August! With most of the US enduring blistering temperatures and sweltering humidity, it’s fair to say summer and sweat are practically synonymous. But is all that sweating good for us?
WHY DO WE SWEAT?
If you think back to high school health class, you may recall that one of the primary functions of sweat is to regulate body temperature (and thank goodness for that this time of year!). Though most sweat is composed of water, salt, amino acids and proteins, every person’s sweat is unique. Our proprietary “formulas” vary based on our hormones, food and water intake, and the bacteria and viruses in our bodies.
While it’s easy to overlook sweating as just another basic bodily function, our skin and sweat glands actually do far more than just keep us cool. From head to toe, each of us boasts over 4 million sweat glands that serve as a powerful natural elimination system. Our lungs, liver, and kidneys have their own ways of purging waste from the body, and so does our skin. Sweating serves as our skin’s mechanism to detoxify, heal superficial wounds, and cleanse itself of airborne pollutants.
Since ancient times, sweating has been valued as an effective way to cleanse the body. Producing roughly an ounce and a half of sweat every day, our bodies sweat to filter out excess salt, cholesterol, and (depending on the festivities of the previous evening) alcohol. Sweat can also rid the body of toxins including cadmium, lead, arsenic, mercury and even modern-day chemical contaminants like BPA and phthalates.
Sweat helps us release toxins, but it is also instrumental in healing the skin. Small abrasions, cuts, and insect bites are cleansed by antimicrobial peptides that are secreted by our sweat glands. Those same sweat glands are also a source of adult stem cells that support the body’s ability to heal wounds.
NOT ALL SWEAT IS CREATED EQUAL
Ever noticed that sometimes your sweat stinks, and other times it doesn’t? There’s a reason: Your body has two different types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands cover the whole body, with larger concentrations on the hands, feet and face. These glands primarily put out sweat composed of water and salt; they’re the workhorses of the body’s internal cooling system. Exercising or spending time outdoors in the summer will quickly trigger eccrine glands, leaving you drenched yet relatively stink-free.
Apocrine glands, on the other hand, are found where you have hair follicles, and they excrete sweat that also includes fats and proteins. Unlike eccrine glands, which activate to cool you down, apocrine glands kick in when you’re stressed, scared or anxious. When this type of sweat mixes with the bacteria on your skin, you know it―or at least your nose knows it.
Feeling stressed out and sweaty, but not stinky? If you’ve been in a stressful situation that left you sweating, but you still don’t notice any smell, you may be one of a lucky few: About 2% of the population boasts a specific gene mutation (ABCC11) that means your armpits never smell.
GET HEALTHY: SWEAT MORE!
Not only does sweating help us detoxify, but it’s also instrumental for relaxation, focus and improving blood flow―all of which are proven to help prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. So if you want to improve your physical and mental health, get your sweat on!
To reap the benefits of your skin’s elimination and detoxification powers, aim to sweat regularly. Spending time in the summer heat will do it, but when the weather is poor (or if you prefer the indoors), there are other options. Join a gym to try heart-pumping exercise classes, or simply hop on the treadmill until you’re in a good sweat. You can also try hot yoga, steam saunas, dry saunas or infrared saunas.
Sweating just thinking about all ways you can get your sweat on? Regardless of how you choose to sweat for your health, always be sure to hydrate well before, during, and after exercising or braving the summer heat. And if you ever notice you’ve suddenly stopped sweating, cool off and rehydrate as soon as possible: A lack of sweat despite the heat can be an indication of overheating.