Don’t Sweat It

Man, it’s a hot one, like seven inches from the midday sun.

Drip, drip, drip. It pours from your brow, your armpits, below your chest, around your neck, in your palms and dare I even bring up good ole swamp… well you get the picture.  What is sweat? What is its purpose? And why does UB40 continually want to make you sweat; sweat like you can’t sweat no more? (You’re welcome)

To start out, let’s define sweat (perspiration).  Sweat is a liquid produced in sweat glands (go figure) and is compiled of mainly water and small amounts of ammonia, salt, and sugar.  This cocktail is then released through tiny holes on the skin’s surface called pores.

What’s the purpose of sweat?  Controlled by your personal thermostat (hypothalamus), sweat is essentially designed to be your very own air conditioning system.  Thus, when your body goes above the comfortable setting of 98.6 degrees, your thermostat (hypothalamus) sends a message to the body to sweat; sweat like you can’t sweat no more.  Once sweat is produced in the sweat glands, it is then excreted through the skin’s pores settling on the surface of your body.  As the sweat evaporates off your skin, it causes your body temperature to drastically cool down.

However, on really hot days or days that closely resemble a cold front in hell (aka this past weekend in the mid-Atlantic) heavy sweating can become inevitable.  In that scenario, you can be losing too much water, thus becoming dehydrated and will need to replenish.

But what is it about sweat that drives people crazy? Is it the smell factor?  If so, you can’t blame sweat for the stink, as sweat has no smell.  However, mix sweat with dirt and bacteria found on the skin’s surface and there my friends, you have your stink.

Ever hear someone say after a heavy night of drinking that the best way to get alcohol and the hangover out of your system is to sweat it out?  If so, slap them in the face and call them a liar.  Contrary to popular belief, sweating is not an effective way to remove toxins from the body. Well, unless you refer to body heat as a toxin.

Keeping that in mind, here are a couple of more fun facts about sweat:

  • The greatest concentrations of sweat glands are on the hands, feet, chest, and back.
  • Heavy lotions and creams can clog your pores and minimize the amount of sweat your body can excrete.
  • As physical fitness improves, sweat loss increases.  Yes, the more physically fit you become the more likely you’re going to sweat.  Because of this, athletes need to become better consumers during exercise to counteract sweat loss.
  • Humans are born with 2-4 million sweat glands.
  • Dehydration reduces sweating as the body tries to conserve body fluids.
  • Your capacity to sweat is determined by genetics, fitness level, and heat acclimation.
  • Many of the sweat glands in your armpit are actually activated by emotional stress and not actually physical activity or overheating.  These are called apocrine sweat glands.

How to beat the heat and dehydration while staying fit during the hot months of the year:

  • Get acclimated: Allow your body to get use to warmer weather.  Just because you can run 6 miles on a treadmill in a climate controlled room doesn’t mean you can and should be able to outside.  Take one to two weeks to get acclimated to the heat.
  • Know your fitness level:  If you’re unfit or new to a particular workout or type of exercise; pace yourself and hydrate yourself.
  • Hydration: Do not wait until you are thirsty to hydrate.  At that point, you are already two steps back.  If you plan to exercise intensely or for longer than one hour, consider a low-calorie sports drink instead of water. Sports drinks can replace the sodium, chloride and potassium you lose through sweating. Avoid alcoholic drinks because they can actually promote fluid loss, poor judgment, and random breakouts of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’.”
  • Dress appropriately: A full body black Lycra suit, although hilarious, is not appropriate attire for summertime outdoor exercise.  Instead, aim to wear lightweight, loose fitting clothing that allows sweat to evaporate more rapidly.  Under Armour, Nike, Gore-tex®, and many other major brands have now created clothing that helps wick moisture away from the body to improve ventilation and cooling.

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