News woman and man sweating in gym

Published on April 6th, 2014 | by Joe Starks

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Athletic Science: Sweating

Sweating, also known as Perspiration is a natural reaction of our bodies to various factors, both environmental and internal. Exercising is one of the most surefire ways to get sweaty very quickly, but there are plenty more reasons why people do sweat. Sometimes the mechanism that makes us sweat isn’t working right and we might have excessive or no sweating at all.

Most people do not like sweat and might even avoid sweating when they can. In this article we’ll look into the nature of sweating and sweat. When is it natural and when is it a medical problem? Why do we need to sweat? Can sweating be avoided and should it be avoided?

What is sweat?

Sweat is actually just water infused with other secretions from our skin. Sweat isn’t identical in its consistency between people and usually differs even from day to day in the same person.

Our skin has between two or four million sweat glands, which is actually a respectable amount compared to many animals. These glands excrete sweat when:

  • The body temperature rises
  • One feels anxious, nervous or scared
  • Eating spicy food
  • We have some medical problems
  • We ingest various chemicals, like morphine, fever medicine and caffeine

Of all these reasons the most common is usually heightened body temperature. When we exercise, we have a fever or the environment is hot (like in summer), then our sweat glands secrete sweat. This sweat reaches our skin’s surface and evaporates. When liquids evaporate they draw heat with them.

The idea behind that is simple: Liquid sweat has slower molecules than evaporated sweat. To evaporate, the molecules of sweat need to move faster and this movement means that they take heat from the body. This way the warm sweat flies away, while we feel cooler.

Why do we need to sweat?

We humans don’t have many better ways to cool down quickly other than sweating. If we didn’t sweat, we’d get too hot and this would damage our cells. This could even lead to death in extreme situations.

People dislike sweat because it makes us smell bad after a while. Sweat itself is rarely odorous, unless you have eaten specific foods, like curry or garlic. That which makes us smell bad after we sweat is the bacteria that thrive in the wet, sweaty environment. Using anti-perspiration crèmes and sprays on our bodies can actually harm us more than it benefits us.

Blocking your sweat glands can cause cysts to form, which look awful and are very painful. It is best to simply use deodorants, which only inhibit the smell, not the sweating itself.

When should you be worried?

It is quite natural for sweat to start smelling bad during puberty. Children might be a bit shocked at first, but a good deodorant can prevent any social troubles. As a parent it is good to prepare your kids, by teaching them proper hygiene before the problem even starts.

Sometimes sweat will naturally smell worse than the average. If that happens you should ask yourself whether you forgot to wash yourself for a while, or if you ate something that causes sweat to smell bad, like garlic, curry spices and oily fish. If nothing of those is true, then perhaps you need to see your GP if the problem doesn’t go away within a week.

A few people suffer from Bromhidrosis, which is harmless, but causes your sweat to smell extremely bad. If you NEVER sweat, no matter how hard you work out or how hot it is, then you might be suffering from Anhidrosis, which is actually a potentially dangerous condition.

It is natural that not all people sweat the same. Within a healthy margin, some people sweat more than others. As long as the amount you sweat helps you feel cooler afterwards, you should be absolutely fine.

What to do about sweat?

You need to live with it, as long as your sweating levels are within a normal range. The best solution is to take a refreshing shower when your sweat dries. When you are sweaty you should make sure you don’t stand in a draft, even when it is hot. Dry yourself up before you get too cold.

Sweat itself is harmless, but it should be washed away after a short while, because it can cause social problems when you smell and health problems when you get too cold. If you sweat due to a fever, it is best to stay under a warm blanket until it stops.

Sweating is an important part of being healthy, so we need to embrace this ability of our bodies and handle it with reason.

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