Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Don’t sweat it- on second thought, it’s good for you!

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I’m often asked by clients, “Why am I sweating so much, or is my lack of sweating a sign that I’m not working out hard enough? ”  Many factors contribute to excessive sweating, but reasons for profuse sweating, or not sweating enough, differ.

Our body’s built-in mechanism of sweating is an excellent thermo-regulator.  As our core temperatures increases with activity, sweating serves a cooling function as the sweat evaporates.

People have varying numbers and size of sweat glands, which accounts for some people being prodigious sweaters, and others not sweating much at all.

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For example, an overweight, unfit person may sweat a lot because their body is working hard to manage the exercise. On the other hand, a well trained athlete may sweat early and profusely through a workout because their sweat response is well conditioned, and their system is better acclimated toward maintaining a comfortable temperature during exertion. Note that humidity curtails the cooling effect of sweating, since the air contains too much moisture for efficient evaporation.

The amount you sweat has a lot to do with several factors:

  • age
  • the size of your sweat glands  – we’re all different.
  • how well hydrated you are. Watch this closely in high heat and read on for more specifics.
  • how well acclimated you are to exercise. The better acclimated you are , the more efficient a sweater you’re likely to be.
  • how intensive your workout is, or how much heavier it is than your normal workout. Sweating may not always be a good barometer of how hard you’re working. In cooler temperatures, we can go for longer and harder, as our bodies don’t have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable core temperature.
  • your body fat percentage- Heavier people will sweat more than lean people.

What are some ways to stay cool while exercising outside in the brutally hot and humid weather? Here are some tips as we go through the dog days of summer:

First and foremost, stay hydrated. We’ve all heard this before, but how much fluid is enough?  At least 16 ounces for each hour of exercise is a good rule of thumb, but for very hot weather, add another 8 ounces to the mix. Also, we lose a lot of sodium when we sweat, so you must add electrolytes to your drink if  you’ll be outside for more than half an hour.  Although many sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade contain a lot of sugar, they do provide needed electrolytes. There are others that contain much less sugar, but still provide what’s needed. Fruit or vegetable juice is another good option. Eating things high in salt content, like pickles or nuts,  will provide you with the essentials.

Other important ways to stay safe and cool while exercising in the hot weather follow:

  • Wear light-colored and moisture-wicking clothing.
  • Avoid direct sunlight; try to find shadier areas as temperatures can vary as much as 10-15 degrees from sun to shade.
  • Hydrate before, during and after your workout with fluids as above.
  • After your workout, be sure to refuel with foods or drinks with potassium, sodium and magnesium.
  • Monitor how your body (heart rate, muscle function, sweating) is responding to the heat. Today on my 30 mile bike ride, I went slower than usual, as I could feel I was working harder in the heat and humidity.  If you experience cramps, dizziness or lightheadedness, this is your sign to stop, take it easier and rehydrate or take a break.
  • Avoid the most intense heat of the day, which is between 11-3:30. Most of us do best in the earlier morning before we’re tired, and before many of the day’s activities divert us from exercise.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen to avoid the effects of sunburn. Wear a hat and sunglasses to keep your head cooler and eyes protected.
  • Wet a towel, and wear it around your neck to stay cool. When your neck is cool, your whole body will stay more comfortable.
  • Check your weather app on your phone or website on your computer to see the safety index for exercising. On wunderground, you can see how good the weather is for various activities. For example,  since I set it for biking,  it will tell me the temperature, wind speed, chance of precipitation and humidity.  It can also be set for air quality alerts.

So, there you have it. You can enjoy being outside while still getting all the benefits of exercise, as long as you pay attention to what your body is telling you. If the mercury exceeds what’s comfortable for you,  there’s always the air-conditioning of your home or gym as a back-up.

Welcome to summer, and happy July 4th to all !

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