Deodorants, antiperspirants, body sprays — people go through considerable effort to hide the fact that they sweat. Sweating may not be everyone’s favorite thing to do, if anything, most people don’t like to sweat, don’t like to smell from sweating and I would presume this is not a particularly favorite subject of conversation. But, if we didn’t sweat, our health would be harmed in a serious way.
Perspiration or sweating is the production of a fluid, primarily water as well as various dissolved solids, mostly salts that are excreted by the sweat glands under the skin. Sweat itself is not the cause of body odor, but rather the bacteria on the skin which feed on the sweat. In humans, sweating is primarily a means of regulating core body temperature. In essence it is a cooling system so our temperature of 37 degrees Celsius or 98.6 Fahrenheit doesn’t fluctuate too much to the up side. Men tend to begin sweating earlier in an exercise session and they also tend to sweat more under most circumstances.
People ask me all the time if the amount you sweat when exercising is in anyway a measure of workout intensity. This is possible but it might be tied in more to how many sweat glands you are born with as opposed to anything else. We are born with between two million to four million sweat glands. Interestingly, women are usually born with more sweat glands than men, but men’s sweat glands are far more active, hence a man’s predisposition to sweating more.
Another factor to consider when exercising is your environment, particularly if you are outdoors. Working out in humid conditions doesn’t cause you to sweat more, but it does prevent the released liquid from evaporating on your skin. This is why you feel hotter or may think you sweat more in a humid environment. The evaporation process releases body heat into the air, helping you stay cooler. When evaporation doesn’t occur in humid conditions, your body is unable to effectively cool down.
If you notice you are sweating excessively without a normal trigger, such as exercise or stress, you may have a condition known as hyperhidrosis. Overactive sweat glands cause sweating at random times. Certain medications and health conditions — including hyperthyroidism, anxiety and heart problems — can cause excessive sweating as well. The hormonal fluctuations associated with menopause can produce hot flashes and sweating at inopportune times, often during the night. Interestingly, regular exercise may help reduce the frequency of both night sweats and hot flashes.
Not sweating enough is also a concern because your body is unable to effectively cool itself. This condition, called anhidrosis, may affect the entire body or only specific areas. Neurological conditions, burns and skin diseases are some potential causes. Dehydration also is a possible cause, which is an important consideration if you exercise or engage in sport activities. Contact your doctor if you believe your sweating is not normal.
One of the unfortunate outcomes of sweating is, of course, a bad odor. As we previously mentions, the sweat itself is odorless. The bad smell is a result of bacteria already on the skin that feed off the perspiration. What you smell is the products related to bacteria breakdown of keratin protein on the surface of your skin. While body odor is usually associated with the armpits, bacteria can also produce odor in the groin, anus area, upper thighs, and feet, among other places. Thoroughly washing your skin with a wet washcloth and soap — especially those areas prone to sweating — can help prevent body odor.
Remember that smelly feet can also cause smelly shoes. Treating your shoes with an over-the-counter deodorizer can help. Also, wear thick, absorbent socks if you can.
If you want to be “odor-free” consider the following tips from WebMd:
Apply an antiperspirant at bedtime. This gives the product a chance to wrork while you sleep and are not sweating. If you apply antiperspirants after showering in the moning, the sweat you accumulate will wash away the product and render you defenseless againt daytime sweating. Remember, deodorants do not prevent sweating. They mainly mask the smell of the sweat on your skin. Antiperspirants are chemical agents that reduce sweating. Many antiperspirant preparations also contain a deodorant, which helps to mask the smell. Check the product you use to make sure it contains an antiperspirant.
Keep your underarms dry. Bacteria have a hard time breeding in dry areas of the body.
Try a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water to fight body odor. Use 1 teaspoon of peroxide (3%) to 1 cup (8 ounces) of water. Wipe this on affected areas (underarm, feet, groin) with a washcloth. This may help destroy some of the bacteria that creates odor.
If sweat from working out is your No. 1 cause of body odor, wash your workout clothes often. Sweaty gym clothes are a bacteria-breeding ground.
Change your diet. Sometimes, fatty foods, oils, or strong-smelling foods such as garlic, curry, and onions, can seep through your pores and cause body odor (always see a doctor or dietician before making drastic dietary changes).
If you have excessive sweating (called hyperhidrosis), talk to your doctor. There are a few treatment options for those with more severe sweating who desire more aggressive treatments. Also, certain medical problems can lead to excessive sweating. Your doctor can make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
For Ladies shaving your underarm regularly will help prevent the accumulation of bacteria and can reduce sweat and odor.
Sweating is the natural way your body keeps cool and it keeps you healthy. It can be an unofficial sign of making sure your exercise is intense enough. It “adds hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
ALAN FREISHTAT is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-Director of the Jerusalem-based Lose It! The Center for Health and Wellness along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. They have begun working with Dr. Michael Bunzel, M.D., a psychiatrist in Bnei Brak, Israel on incorporating exercise as a therapy for Stress, Anxiety and Depression. Lose it! can be reached at 02-654-0728 or 050-555-7175, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the Lose It! website at www.loseit.co.il
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