The health benefits of sweat

by take-a-break |
Published on

It might not be pretty, but sweat has important health benefits…

We often think of sweat as something that’s uncomfortable and unattractive, but it is important to our wellbeing.

Dr Deborah Lee, a GP for Dr Fox Online Doctor and Pharmacy, says: ‘There’s no question that sweating is good for us. Alongside other benefits, the key function of sweating is to keep us cool and help regulate our body temperature. Put simply, without the ability to sweat, we would die. It really is that important.’

Sweating through exercise is especially good for our health. However, it’s important to know what’s normal for you.

Dr Adam Friedmann, consultant dermatologist at Stratum Dermatology Clinics, says: ‘Sweating at times you wouldn’t expect, such as when you’re just sitting still, could indicate a medical problem, such as hyperhidrosis. If sweating is problematic for you, see your doctor or a dermatologist and let us help you.’

To experience the benefits of sweating, it’s crucial you stay hydrated. Ideally, drink 450ml of water two to four hours before you exercise. If you’re doing high-intensity workouts, where you sweat more vigorously, you may want to drink sports drinks that also replenish electrolytes.

Dr Lee adds: ‘Even if you’re someone who sweats at a normal rate, it’s important to do it safely. Don’t worry about how sweating looks, but understand the role it can play in helping your body.’

Here, both doctors explain…

Body temperature regulation

Dr Lee says: ‘Our body needs sweat to control our body temperature. As sweat evaporates from our skin, it releases heat, cooling the body.’

Dr Friedmann says: ‘There are certain conditions where people are unable to sweat, and thus lose the ability to cool themselves adequately, causing fainting or sudden collapse. This alone demonstrates just how powerful sweating can be.’

Getting rid of toxins

Dr Lee says: ‘Substances excreted in sweat include bicarbonate, glucose, ammonia and alcohol, which is why sweating is often increased in a hangover.’

Several studies also suggest sweating may help excrete small amounts of heavy metals from our body, while the same may be true for bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in plastics.

Dr Lee says: ‘A small amount of toxic products such as pollutants and heavy metals are present in sweat, which indicates sweating may aid the body in excreting some of these toxins. However, it’s important to note that your liver and kidneys do most of the detoxification work, with most heavy metals and toxic substances excreted through urine, bile or stools.’

Expelling excess salt

We know that consuming too much salt, or sodium, can increase our blood pressure. On top of limiting our intake, exercise can also help.

Dr Friedmann says: ‘Our sweat contains salt, which is excreted during exercise. That, combined with water loss, may result in helping us to lower blood pressure.’

In fact, some studies suggest the higher the intensity of a workout, the more salt you lose.

However, Dr Lee says: ‘While sweating is one way the body can control and lower blood pressure, excess sweating and sweating over long periods can lead to sodium depletion (hyponatraemia), which is a dangerous medical condition, so it’s about getting a balance.’

Working out

Dr Lee says: ‘Sweating can be a useful tool when examining how effectively we’re working our bodies during exercise. If you’re sweating during a workout, then this shows you’re exercising at a good rate, which is likely to have positive benefits for your cardiovascular health. Doing any form of aerobic exercise that leaves you slightly sweaty and out of breath, such as dancing, swimming or jogging, is going to help your health.’

Finding love

Dr Friedmann says: ‘In addition to helping us cool down, in certain areas of the body, sweat is mixed with pheromone-producing proteins which may help us attract a mate.’

Some studies have suggested that this is because we may be drawn to the scent of those whose immune response genes are different from our own. What better excuse to hit the gym then!

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