I’ve talked before about the benefits of sweating it out in a sauna but sweating in general offers some impressive benefits. Like relief from hot flashes, lowered risk of heart attack, and better recovery times.
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. These excrete a mixture of water, salt, amino acids, proteins, and other substances. The exact makeup varies based on hormones and physiological changes. Even pathogens like bacteria and viruses in the body play a role in how our sweat is made.
Interestingly, sweat composition and how our glands function (or don’t) tell a lot about our health. It’s 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 includes 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.
Is Sweating Good For You?
Here are 11 pretty incredible reasons why sweating is good for you.
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 those with mercury toxicity had their levels return to a safe amount after sweating. Working up a sweat also excretes impurities like arsenic, cadmium, and lead.
With our world experiencing record levels of industrial pollution, toxic heavy metal buildup is a major concern. A study of Chinese residents found those with more physical activity had fewer toxins. The researchers also reported heavy metal elimination was more concentrated in sweat than urine. This seems to show that those who exercised had fewer toxins because they perspired more.
2. Ditch the Endocrine Disruptors
Plastics often contain the endocrine disruptor BPA (bisphenol A). It’s just one of the reasons our family avoids plastic as much as possible. In 2004, 93% of people had BPA in their body, including in breastmilk. While many companies are phasing this chemical out, the chemicals replacing it likely aren’t any better. When we work up a sweat our body releases toxins like BPA.
Other studies show PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) found in older building materials and PBDES (a flame retardant chemical) excrete through sweat, not urine. Taking niacin along with sweating helps our bodies better mobilize stored toxins and get rid of them.
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 (like from intense exercise) can also help with our skincare routine. Sweating boosts skin cell turnover and removes pathogenic bacteria from the skin to help with acne and breakouts. (TIP: I also use this skin spray to keep my skin bacteria healthy and balanced)
4. Defeat Harmful Microbes
Working up a sweat also boosts the immune system. International studies show sweating can cut our chance of getting the flu by one-third! It turns out that sweat has antimicrobial peptides that bind with certain bacteria and viruses in the body. This process helps tackle pathogens like H. pylori, E. coli, and HIV. These antimicrobial substances also help flush out toxins and attack germs.
Sauna sessions are catching on as a way to fight the flu. Researchers report some time in an infrared sauna helps fight infection and speed healing time. It’s important though to focus on hydration whenever you’re in a sauna to prevent overheating and dehydration.
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 had 26 unique proteins. These were related to their immune function and the 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
Healthy sweating boosts circulation and strengthens the cardiovascular system. In one study, those with the most weekly sauna sessions were the least likely to have a negative cardiovascular event.
Saunas also promote relaxation and stress relief, which are good for heart and mental health.
6. Speed Recovery After Exercise
Sweating boosts blood flow to the skeletal muscles and improves well-being. This in turn helps 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 also activates the parasympathetic response in the body. This de-stress mode helps us to relax, digest, and recover. Breaking a sweat in the sauna or through exercise helps boost endorphins and relieve anxiety and depression. After we sweat, cortisol and stress hormones go down. At the same time, our other adrenal hormones help maintain a proper electrolyte balance increase.
8. Decrease the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Sweating has a lot of benefits that can help prevent Alzheimer’s. We know it helps detox heavy metals, promotes relaxation, improves focus, and strengthens blood flow to the brain. A study of Finnish men who use saunas found some major mental health benefits. Those with frequent sauna sessions had 65% less risk of Alzheimer’s compared to the once a week sauna group.
9. Boost Sexual Drive and Attraction
When we lose sweat it carries certain pheromones with it. While our noses may not notice the scent, our brains do. One study found that when men excreted pheromones through sweat it improved both mood and focus. It even 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 hot flashes.
11. Lower Risk of Kidney Stones
There’s another bonus to sweating more often. More women over 50 are getting kidney stones than ever before, but sweating may help. Researchers at the University of Washington found the benefits of sweating through consistent exercise reduces this risk. Over time, too much salt and calcium can form kidney stones. Sweating boosts the body’s natural balance and directs calcium to our bones instead.
So is sweating good for you? I’d say that’s a resounding yes!
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 men tend to sweat more. (I think we all knew that already!) This is because men have significantly more muscle mass, so their bodies have to work harder to cool down.
- Weight – Similarly, people who carry extra weight around sweat more.
- Toxicity – People with a higher toxic load tend to sweat more since their body is working overtime to get rid of the toxins. Detoxing is one reason armpits can have more body odor.
- Hyperhidrosis – Some people sweat 4-5 times what a normal person does. This condition, hyperhidrosis, is thought to be triggered by infection, medications, overactive nerves due to genetics, or hypothyroidism.
- Tattoos – One side effect of getting inked? Losing more sodium, potassium, and electrolytes in tattoo covered areas. This probably won’t affect someone with a small tattoo here or there. But, it suggests lots of 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
The first way to get the benefits is to stop blocking the body’s ability to excrete sweat. Antiperspirants contain toxins like aluminum that block pores and reduce the body’s ability to sweat. Instead, try a natural homemade deodorant or a healthy pre-made one. I like this mineral deodorant from Wellnesse. If there’s excessive body odor, then an armpit detox is in order.
2. Get More Exercise
You might think twice now before skipping that hot yoga session. We all know exercise can make us sweaty and has a host of other benefits. But most of us aren’t doing it nearly enough. Exercise doesn’t have to be long and complicated though. Even a quick workout every day will provide health benefits.
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. In this article, I cover the benefits of saunas and where to find the best ones.
Natural Ways to Reduce Excess Sweating
What to do if too much sweat is the problem?
Conventional solutions to conditions like hyperhidrosis can be potentially risky. These can include botox injections, antidepressants, or microwaves to destroy the sweat glands. And if medication is the cause of 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 all help. Using frankincense and copaiba essential oil can be helpful, depending on the underlying reason. If you have any concerns be sure to discuss them with your health practitioner.
Risks of Sweating (and a Few Cautions)
The most common risk of sweating is dehydration. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids and check out the recovery tips below.
When done responsibly and with a doctor’s OK, sweating benefits outweigh the risks for most people. Certain people should take it easy if they:
- have heart conditions
- are under the influence of alcohol
- have 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. Certain substances in sweat can trigger a histamine response that irritates 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. Certain health conditions though warrant some caution. 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.
Concerning sauna use, studies show sauna time boosts milk production in nursing moms and is considered safe. Pregnant moms also get the OK for sauna use. Of course, when in doubt consult with a health practitioner.
How to Recover from a Sweat Session
Since sweat is 98% water, it’s important to hydrate after sweating. Take it from someone who didn’t rehydrate and ended up getting a huge needle IV in my hand…
I like to replenish electrolytes after exercise or sauna with a homemade electrolyte drink. If you need something that travels well, I use these electrolyte packets. Try the citrus sea salt, it tastes amazing!
It’s interesting to note though that the body has a natural electrolyte balancing mechanism. Our sweat glands excrete electrolytes onto the skin (mainly salt). However, our body reabsorbs the sodium, chloride, and ions back into the skin. Researchers found that athletes who regularly work 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!
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 to experience?
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.