It’s hot out. It’s really, really hot out. It’s, like, immediately-dripping-with-sweat hot out. If I was in an exercise class, it might take me 30 minutes to work up that kind of sweat! So why exercise at all in the summer? Sweat is sweat, am I right? I know that’s bad logic, but with new trends like sweat lodges costing $70 a session, it does make me wonder: Do different types of sweat have different health benefits?
First of all, what is sweat?
“Sweat is the natural secretion of moisture from the skin’s pores,” says Dr. Sourab Choudhury, board-certified dermatologist and the chief medical officer at The Dermatology Specialists in NYC.
If we want to get super technical about it, sweat is 99 percent water and 1 percent other things.
Those “other things” include nitrogenous compounds (amino acids and urea), metal and nonmetal ions (potassium, sodium, and chloride), metabolites (acetate and pyruvate), and xenobiotics (drugs, pollutants, etc).
Stay with me! Important thing to remember: Sweat is 99 percent water.
There are two different types of sweat glands— apocrine (stress, fear, pain and hormone-related sweat) and eccrine (body temperature-controlling sweat).
When your body temperature rises (via exercise, weather or infrared sauna), eccrine glands release sweat to your skin’s surface, and when it evaporates, it takes some heat with it, allowing your body to cool down.
Besides sweating’s main function of temperature regulation, Choudhury says that mild to moderate sweating can also help fight off illness and acne.
“Perspiration contains antibiotic agents which are part of the immune system that help to guard against viruses, bacteria and fungi and break them down,” he says. “On top of that, sweating helps protect skin from acne, releasing the buildup of dirt and bacteria that live inside pores.”
Great. I’m up for anything that makes my skin look good.
Now let’s compare the different ways and types of sweat.
Spin class sweat (or your killer cardio of choice)
Regular exercise has so many immediate and long-term benefits, including reducing anxiety and blood pressure, improving sleep, reducing the risk of certain diseases, and helping you maintain a healthy weight.
But the sweat you accumulate during a good workout isn’t related to any of those things.
In fact, every person is different and some people sweat more than others during a workout.
There are a lot of factors at play in how much you sweat: room temperature, your clothing, your fitness level, and perhaps even your gender (there’s some debate about that). There are also conditions that cause some people to sweat excessively (hyperhidrosis) and some to sweat less (hypohidrosis).
So just because you are sweating profusely during a cardio class and the person beside you isn’t, that doesn’t mean they are reaping any more or less benefits from the class.
You’re just sweating because your body is actively trying to cool you off. The sweat itself isn’t burning calories.
While it might take me a while to work up a sweat in a fitness class, it takes me all of two minutes to become a sweaty soaking mess in this New York City summer heat.
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Is there any added benefit to my body working so quickly to cool me off?
There are certainly benefits to outdoor activity (including boosting your mood and increasing your vitamin D intake), but, again, sweating outdoors is just a sign that your body is doing its job. It’s also a reminder to drink more water.
Sweat lodge sweat
Now for the controversy.
Urban sweat lodges promise a full body detox while allowing you to reap the benefits of exercise (weight loss, improved sleep and fitness, less stress) and outdoor activity (improved mood), but claim that you can skip the spin class or nature hike and just gain these benefits through sweating. Not only that, they claim you can reap these benefits while lying down and watching Netflix.
I obviously had to try it.
I signed up for a sweat session at Shape House in Brooklyn, and long story short: Not a fan.
The room itself is not hot (that’s one of the things that makes this experience different from a traditional sauna). They wrap you up like a burrito in a FAR infrared blanket (similar to a heated sleeping bag that allows your head to stick out), and sit you in front of a TV.
It only took about 20 minutes for me to become convinced I was going to die. I was so hot, y’all. It did not feel good or healthy.
When it was over, I did not experience a mood boost or weight loss or any of the things Shape House had advertised. But once I got home and showered, I couldn’t help but notice my skin looked amazing.
“Sweat beds do offer the cosmetic benefit of a nice, natural glow,” confirms Choudhury.
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“When you sweat, your circulation speeds up and the vessels right underneath your skin have to dilate to get rid of fluid.”
However, he points out that I could have gotten that same glow (and more benefits) from working out or running outside.
As for the detox aspect, Choudhury says there are mixed reviews on that. “Sweat probably plays some role [in helping the body detox], but the body’s main mechanism of detoxing is through the liver and kidneys.”
If 99 percent of sweat is water, then any so-called sweat “full body detox” would be pulling from that other 1 percent. So you can weigh if that’s worth $70. It’s probably better to focus on taking care of your liver and kidneys first.
“There’s no scientific evidence to suggest that going to a sweat lodge or using a sweat bed will offer any added benefits to our health,” says Choudhury. “Ultimately, sweat beds are just a trendy, alternative way to sweat.”
So whether you’re taking a fitness class, taking a walk outside in the summer heat, or taking an hour out of your day to sweat like there’s no tomorrow in a high-tech sleeping bag, you can expect that, no matter the type of sweat, your body is ready to cool you down and your skin will be glowing.
Looking for a way to beat the heat after that sweat session? Try our Keto piña colada recipe.