Like with most of America, a heat wave engulfed Los Angeles during the past few months. Much as I love breaking a sweat working out, walking out of my house and instantly becoming a sticky mess exceeds my admittedly wide comfort zone.

Sweating isn’t sexy and it often gets a bad rep. You’ve heard someone say “Don’t sweat it,” for instance, and you remember like yesterday breaking into a miserable sweat before that make-or-break high school chemistry final.

First dates and job interviews are not the time to break into a sweat. During a workout or rigorous outdoor activity, however, you want to sweat, and the more the better. Here’s why:

The Science Behind Sweating

Before we discuss sweating’s benefits I want to provide a short, painless science lesson about how we sweat. (Don’t worry: no pop quiz at the end!)

Even though it may feel inconsistent or totally random, your body has a pattern for sweating. Let’s say your trainer does a short warm-up and then asks you to do 12 burpees.
Your brain quickly detects this vigorous movement and signals your eccrine glands to dissipate excess heat. Virtually all of your skin contains these major sweat glands.
Eccrine glands also help your body adapt to different temperatures. Ever notice walking into a frigid room and after a few minutes it didn’t feel so cold? That’s your eccrine glands adjusting your body’s thermostat.

Emotions can also trigger eccrine glands. Think back to waiting for a hot first date at the bar. You were nervous and your eccrine glands promptly kicked in, whether you wanted them to or not!

You also have a second, less abundant type of sweat gland called sebaceous glands, mostly located on your face and scalp. Sebaceous glands secrete an oily substance called sebum that lubricates and waterproofs your skin and hair.

Overly oily hair or a skin breakout (why do these always happen before big events?) is your body getting carried away secreting too much sebum. Worth noting too: sebum partly makes up earwax.

Ever notice sweat has a unique flavor? Don’t get weird on me and say you’ve never tasted sweat. Maybe you’re working out rigorously, wipe your forearm against your face, and taste your sweat’s saltiness on your lips. Yuck, right? That taste comes from sodium and potassium ions, which combine with chlorine ions to form salt as part of the “sweating process.”

If you’re ever on Jeopardy! and Alex Trebek asks why sweat tastes salty: well, now you know, and you just added $6,000 to your score.

Sweating at the Gym

Why do we sweat? I know, this might seem obvious: because your body uses perspiration to keep you from becoming overheated. Duh.

If you’re like me, you sweat most often at the gym. Exercise increases your body’s core temperature, which in turn cools down by carrying fluid to your skin’s surface and then evaporating. Even a comfortable-temperature gym would become a sauna if you didn’t sweat.

Not surprisingly, more intense exercise like burst training and weight resistance will increase body heat more readily than plodding along at the elliptical machine absentmindedly flipping through People Magazine. Breaking a sweat at the gym is a good thing.

Someone asked me recently if heavier people sweat more. Well, yes: body weight can certainly trigger sweat.

Interestingly though, fitter people also sweat more. That’s because the fitter you are, the more efficiently your body becomes at cooling itself rather than storing extra heat. Your cardiovascular system, lungs, and other organs that contribute to sweating become better at doing their jobs.

So if you find you break a sweat more quickly during your workouts, congratulations. You’re becoming more fit and your body is becoming more efficient at using sweat to cool off.

Are There Benefits to Sweating?

Sweating does more than cool you during a hard workout or a two-mile walk in 95-degree heat. For one, it helps your body detoxify. You see, your liver converts fat-soluble toxins into water-soluble substances, which your body then excretes via urine, feces, breathing, and yes, sweat.

Sweating can also benefit your immune system. Maybe you’re running a fever. Now, most of us grab an over-the-counter remedy to bring that fever down, but sweating it out might be your best remedy: sweat helps cool your internal organs and naturally lowers your body temperature.

You might not feel very attractive when you sweat, but ultimately it leaves you with glowing skin and raises your feel-good endorphins.

Worth mentioning too: sweating keeps us alive. Imagine being in the sweltering sun on a triple-digit day and not being able to sweat. You probably wouldn’t last long. Think of sweat as your personalized AC.

So you’re determined to sweat more. Just don’t get carried away. Overdoing it can become dangerous since humidity prevents fluids on your skin from evaporating, which doesn’t allow your body to cool itself down.

Be smart, folks. When it’s 95 degrees with nearly 100% humidity and raging sun, don’t schedule an hour run or high-intensity park-hill burst training.

If outdoors or the gym isn’t your idea of sweating it out, you can always use a far-infrared sauna. Unlike traditional saunas, far-infrared saunas penetrate deep inside your skin to release the toxins stored in your fat tissue.

One study in the journal Canadian Family Physician showed far-infrared saunas could help relieve chronic pain, heal chronic fatigue syndrome, and even promote weight loss.

Healthy Skin Inside and Out

Sweating optimally requires healthy skin. Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so treat it well.

Eating healthy fats in avocado, coconut and olive oil, as well as nuts and seeds nourishes your skin. So do protein, leafy and cruciferous veggies, and low-glycemic fruits. On the other hand, dairy, sugar, and gluten can create acne, oily or dry skin, and other problems.
Just as important is what you put on your skin. Your skin is a sieve, and using chemical-laden cosmetics can contribute to your toxic load. Refer to the “NO list” I included in my recent blog post: Why What Skincare Products You Use, Matters for a list of potentially toxic ingredients in your creams, washes, and other skincare products.

5 Steps to Sweat Better

1. Take this crucial mineral- A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found the more you sweat, the more magnesium you lose. Consider that among its duties, this underrated mineral plays a part in over 300 enzymatic reactions including ATP (energy) production. A post-workout supplement or powder can replenish levels and help your sore muscles relax. I like Magnesium Citramate from Thorne Research.

2. Stay hydrated- Especially in humid weather, drink eight ounces of water every half hour. I keep a liter-sized canteen and sip throughout the day.

3. Don’t over hydrate- I know: I’m telling you to drink plenty of water, and then I’m telling you to go easy. But hear me out. A dangerous condition called exercise-associated hyponatremia can result when you over-consume water after a vigorous workout. It doesn’t occur often, but you can die from exercise-associated hyponatremia.

4. Replenish electrolytes- Remember earlier I mentioned you sweat out sodium and potassium. Electrolyte imbalance can result from heavy sweating, so remember to refuel with a low-sugar, professional-quality electrolyte formula. (Sorry guys, Gatorade doesn’t cut it.) I like Catalyte from Thorne Research.

5. Get optimal sleep. I know: you probably don’t associate sleep with sweat. But a study in the American Journal of Physiology found too little sleep means you sweat less during a workout. That means you don’t cool off as easily and you don’t sweat out those toxins. Aim for eight hours of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep every night.

References

Beever R. Far-infrared saunas for treatment of cardiovascular risk factors. Can Fam Physician. 2009 July; 55(7): 691–696.

Sawka MN, et al. Effects of sleep deprivation on thermoregulation during exercise. Am J Physiol. 1984 Jan;246(1 Pt 2):R72-7.

Verde T, et al. Sweat composition in exercise and in heat. J Appl Physiol. 1982 Dec;53(6):1540-5.

Author's Bio: 

Fitness expert and strength coach Jini Cicero, CSCS, teaches intermediate exercisers how to blast through plateaus to create incredible transformations. Are you ready to take your fitness to a whole new level? Find out now! Take Jini's "Are you Ready?" Quiz at www.Jinifit.com. © 2011 Jinifit, Inc.