I’ve talked before about the benefits of sweating it out in a sauna, but sweating in general offers some impressive benefits. Relief from hot flashes, lowered risk of heart attack, and better recovery times are just a few of the advantages.
True, some of us find sweating takes effort and is even a little unpleasant, but the health benefits of sweating are worth getting hot and sticky over!
What Is Sweat?
It seems like a basic question, but sweating is more complicated than it looks. Each of us has about 4 million sweat glands that excrete a mixture of water, salt, amino acids, proteins, and other substances. The exact composition varies based on our hormone balance, physiological changes, and what bacteria and viruses are in the body.
Interestingly, sweat composition and how our glands function (or don’t) tell a lot about our health and are even used to diagnose certain conditions like cystic fibrosis.
Why Do We Sweat?
There are several reasons why we perspire. The body uses sweat to regulate temperature and cool the body during times of stress. This can be due to anxiety, elevated body temperature (like fever or in a sauna) or just the positive stress of working out. Sweat is also an effective detox pathway for heavy metals and toxins.
The Health Benefits of Sweating
Here are 11 pretty incredible reasons why sweating is good for you… It can help:
1. Detox Heavy Metals
One of the primary functions of sweat is to cool the body down, but the other is detoxification. Despite some claims that detoxing through sweat is dangerous nonsense, there’s a lot of evidence to back up this function of sweat. One study found that those with mercury toxicity had their levels return to a safe amount after sweating sessions, as it also excretes arsenic, cadmium, and lead.
With China experiencing record level of industrial pollution, toxic heavy metal buildup is a major concern. A study of Chinese residents found that those who exercised more had fewer toxins in their body and that the elimination of heavy metals was more concentrated in sweat that urine. This seems to indicate that those who exercised had fewer toxins because they perspired more.
2. Help the Body Remove BPA, PCBs, and other Endocrine Disruptors
The endocrine disruptor BPA is commonly found in plastics and is one reason to avoid plastic as much as possible. Research shows BPA and its harmful effects are more effectively remedied through sweat than other detox routes.
In addition, studies show PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) found in older building materials and PBDES (a flame retardant chemical) excrete through sweat, not urine. (Also, taking niacin along with sweating can increase the mobilization of stored toxins.)
3. Promote Healthier Skin
Like the gut, our skin has its own microbiome balance. Sweat may act as a prebiotic that contributes to healthy skin bacteria. Deep sweating can also improve skin cell turnover and remove pathogenic bacteria from the skin to help with acne. (TIP: I also use this skin spray to keep my skin bacteria healthy and balanced)
4. Defeat Harmful Microbes
International studies have shown that sweating can cut our chance of getting the flu by one third! It turns out sweat contains some of the same antimicrobial proteins that are known to bind with certain bacteria and viruses in the body, including H. pylori, E. coli and HIV. These antimicrobial substances help flush out toxins and attack germs.
Research also shows that heat from a sauna helps to kill off infections and pathogenic viruses and quickens healing times.
What’s more, our sweat composition even changes depending on what toxins are in our body and if we have a specific condition or disease. In a study of people with tuberculosis, their sweat contained 26 unique proteins related to their immune function and transportation of proteins across membranes. This suggests our body intuitively knows what proteins to increase to get rid of the issue at hand.
5. Protect the Heart
Sweating through exercise or in the sauna increases circulation and strengthens the cardiovascular system. In a study of regular sauna goers, researchers found that those who had the most weekly sauna sessions were the least likely to have a negative cardiovascular event.
Saunas are also known to promote relaxation and stress relief, which are also good for the heart.
6. Speed Recovery After Exercise
Sweating boosts blood flow to the skeletal muscles. This helps to increase recovery time from illness, injury and muscle strain. Studies show sweating even boosts growth hormone production, which is the body’s way of repairing itself.
7. Lower Stress Hormones
Sweating activates the parasympathetic response in the body that allows us to relax, digest properly, and recover. Breaking a sweat in the sauna or through exercise helps to boost our happy hormone and relieve anxiety and depression. Cortisol and stress hormones reduce after sweating, while other adrenal hormones help maintain a proper electrolyte balance increase.
8. Decrease Risk of Alzheimer’s
Sweating is known to detox heavy metals from the body, promote relaxation, improve focus, and strengthen blood flow to the brain, all of which have benefits for Alzheimer’s prevention. Frequent sauna use decreased the risk of Alzheimer’s in one study of Finnish men by 65% compared to the group that only used the sauna once a week.
9. Boost Sexual Drive and Attraction
When sweat is excreted, it carries certain pheromones with it. While our noses may not be able to notice the scent, our brains do. One study found that when men excreted pheromones through sweat it improved both mood and focus as well as increased attraction from women. (Even though it seems like the opposite would be true!)
10. Reduce Menopause Symptoms
Estrogen dominance is thought to be the culprit behind menopausal hot flashes in women, but sweating may be the answer. Researchers found that women who got their heart rate up and sweated during menopause had fewer episodes of hot flashes.
11. Lower Risk of Kidney Stones
Interestingly, there’s another bonus to sweating more often. Although incidence of kidney stones in women over 50 has risen dramatically in recent years, researchers at the University of Washington found the benefits of sweating through consistent exercise reduces this risk. Excess salt and calcium can form kidney stones over time, but sweating boosts the body’s natural balance and directs calcium to our bones instead.
After researching these benefits of sweating, I’m convinced … and vowing never to skip a workout again!
Why Some People Sweat More (Or Less)
Even though sweating is a free and easy way to boost health, we don’t all sweat the same. Here are some reasons why the amount we sweat might vary:
- Men vs. Women – A study of both male and female athletes found that men tend to sweat more than their female counterparts. (I think we all knew that already!) The study found this is because the men had significantly more muscle mass, so their bodies had to work harder to cool.
- Weight – Similarly, people who carry extra weight around sweat more.
- Toxicity – People who have more of a toxic load tend to sweat more, since their body is working overtime to eliminate the toxins.
- Hyperhidrosis – Some people sweat 4-5 times what a normal person does. This condition is called hyperhidrosis and is thought to be primarily triggered by infection, medications, overactive nerves due to genetics, or hypothyroid.
- Tattoos – One side effect of getting inked? Losing more sodium and electrolytes in tattoo covered areas. This probably won’t affect someone with a small tattoo here or there, but suggests significant ink over large areas of the body impedes the health benefits of sweating significantly.
How to Get the Benefits of Sweating
So sweating is good, but many of us aren’t doing it enough. Here are a few easy ways to make sure we sweat enough:
1. Stop Using Antiperspirant
It seems logical, but the first way to get the benefits is to stop blocking your body’s ability to excrete sweat. Antiperspirants can contain heavy metals and also block pores and reduce the body’s ability to sweat. Instead, try a natural homemade deodorant or a pre-made like my favorite Kokomo Cream Natural Deodorant.
2. Get More Exercise
We all know that exercise induces sweat and has a host of other benefits. But most of us aren’t doing it nearly enough. Find out a way to get in a quick workout once a day for the most benefit.
3. Sit in a Sauna
This is my personal favorite way because the effects and the benefits of sweating are noticeable and immediate. We have a two-person sauna in our house and use it often for the many benefits.
Natural Ways to Reduce Excess Sweating
What to do if too much sweat is the problem?
Conventional solutions to condition like hyperhidrosis include potentially risky methods like botox injections, temporarily collapsing the lungs and severing the nerves, and mild electrocution. Or, if medication is the cause of the excessive sweating, there’s a pill to treat the side effect from that too.
Natural solutions to balancing the body’s sweat functions instead address the root cause. Balancing hormones, detoxing, and supporting the nervous system with things like frankincense extracts and copaiba essential oil can be helpful, depending on the underlying reason. If concerned be sure to discuss with a qualified health practitioner.
Risks of Sweating (and a Few Cautions)
The most common risk of sweating is dehydration, so make sure to drink plenty of fluids and check out the recovery tips below.
When done responsibly and with a doctor’s OK, the benefits of intentional sweating outweigh the risks for most people. Certain people should take it easy if they:
- have heart conditions
- are under the influence of alcohol
- suffer from eczema
- have high blood pressure
A Caution on Sweating and Eczema
Those with eczema should take extra precautions and may want to shower soon after a good sweat as certain substances in sweat trigger a histamine response in the body that can exacerbate eczema. I’ve shared our family’s experience with eczema and how to treat the root cause in this post.
A Note for Pregnant and Nursing Moms
The right kind of exercise is great for most pregnant and nursing moms without health complications. Pregnant moms with high blood pressure or heart conditions especially should speak with their health care provider to see which types of exercise are safest for them.
In regard to sauna use, studies show time in a sauna increases lactation in nursing moms and is considered safe. Pregnant moms also get the OK for sauna use. Of course, when in doubt consult with a doctor.
How to Recover from a Sweat Session
Since sweat is 98% water, it’s important to hydrate after sweating. Replenishing electrolytes with a homemade electrolyte drink (and much more fun than getting a huge needle IV in your hand … check out that post to see how I know…)
It’s interesting to note though that the body has a natural electrolyte balancing mechanism. Our sweat glands excrete electrolytes, mainly salt onto the skin. However, our body has a method that reabsorbs the sodium, chloride and ions back into the skin. Researchers found that athletes who are used to working up a sweat reabsorbed the excreted ions better than those who don’t exercise as much.
So Start Sweating!
Hopefully reviewing these benefits inspires us to get out there and break a sweat. Lift weights, jog in place, swing those kettlebells, or sit in a sauna … today and every day!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you try to work up a sweat on a regular basis? Are you inspired to start? What health benefits of sweating have you noticed or would like experience?
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