Why do we sweat? To regulate our temperature and keep from overheating. Simple right? And pretty damn essential when it comes to staying healthy. So why are we so down on ourselves about it? Research shows that a significant barrier to women exercising is concern about becoming too sweaty and worrying about its appearance to others.
As you know, I’m ALL about breaking down barriers to exercise with Move Happy. So let’s see if we can't tackle this one to feel a bit more comfortable about getting that sheen on.
Sweating is a natural bodily process where fluid is released from the skin. Firstly, we ALL do it all day EVERYDAY – even at rest or in a day doing very little we lose nearly a pint of fluid. This isn’t visible perspiration, but the scientists know it is absolutely, most definitely going on.
Then once we start moving and/or the external temperature rises, we can easily produce that same amount or more in just an hour. For some it can seem like A LOT. This is perhaps why a lot of ladies get a little concerned about it, but a bit of explanation could maybe help.
We start to visibly sweat when the body temperature rises above its regular 37 celsius and we need to bring it back down. If we didn’t, we’d be in a pretty bad way.
It’s all controlled by the hypothalamus area of the brain and the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This is your body’s protective fight or flight mechanism which is actually – and thankfully - in control of quite a lot of stuff that keeps us safe in life. (As an aside, the more I learn about the SNS - we looked a little bit at it before here - the more I think we as humans are pretty amazing).
When we need to cool down due rising external heat or exercise, the SNS activates millions of eccrine glands throughout the body which will then do their job of releasing liquid through our pores. It’s that all natural, home grown, good all-over sweat we recognise after anything that takes a bit of effort. Ahhhh.
If we do this often, our bodies learn to become very efficient at sweating. People living and working out in hot and humid environments adapt to it, just as people aerobically trained will work up a sweat faster. If you kept training through these last crazy summer heat waves, your body might too have adapted to help with heat regulation.
Alongside this, sweat can also be caused by stress and hormonal changes, again all of which is totally human. When we sweat as a result of stress, its driven by a boat load of adrenaline pumping round the body (think job interview, presentation, or equivalent nerve-wracking situation). Adrenaline causes blood vessels to narrow, sending blood to only those areas of the body most needed for fight or flight. And instead of the eccrine glands activating, just a few sweat glands become active – these are the apocrine glands in the groin and underarms. It is the sweat produced here that more commonly reacts with bacteria on the skin to produce a smell or body odour. Incredibly, there could be a valuable reason for this - some theories suggest that in evolutionary terms, humans under stress (unconsciously) produced this scent to deter predators. Say what??
So when I think back a few years to my high stress campaigns job in London (and now shudder at the memory!) it’s the clear reason I habitually wore not just one but two different types of deodorant under my arms to keep things under control. Interestingly, now I sweat more as I move more, but the smell? So much less of an issue. (In terms of the job, I'm content now in the end the problem was not me, my sweat, or even the bacteria…)
So if sweat is a concern, either from either exercise or stress, try to think of it as a natural human process and one of many that we perhaps underestimate the importance of. It is a function that has developed to serve us in some way. Of course if you think for you, the sweat has suddenly become way out of control or unusual, then do get it checked out. But for the vast majority of us this ins't the case. Everyone does it and essentially it keeps us safe. And if it smells a little, that’s not you just the bacteria! No one else in an exercise class will have even noticed (especially outside and socially distanced!), and you can get it washed off in no time.
It’s another example of your body being super smart and efficient. When we’re cold, goosebumps raise the hairs on our body to trap the heat next to our skin in attempt to keep us warm. Sweating is essentially just the OPPOSITE of that.
So rather than worrying, let’s marvel again at the incredible nature of our bodies to care for us, without so much as a conscious thought. And if you’re training hard and working up a good, honest sweat? For me, I take that as the mark of a job well done 👍