HomeHealthArchivesJun 2004


Learn to Love Sweat

"Women dew, men perspire, horses sweat." This Victorian exercise in euphemism is a perfect example of our culture's disdain for sweat-a bodily fluid that might lose its bad rep if people knew more about it.

According to the University of California at Berkeley Wellness Letter, there are two kinds of sweat: the kind that the body produces in reaction to high temperatures, and the kind that pops out on your forehead when you have to make a speech. Both are just water and electrolytes, minerals that help regulate blood pressure and water balance.

It's the evaporation of sweat that cools the body. Hot, humid weather feels hotter than hot, dry weather because the humidity interferes with evaporation. Anything that promotes evaporation helps-such as fans, even when they just move hot air from one side of the room to the next.

Sweat must be replaced. Because thirst kicks in only well after your body has run low on fluids, Wellness Letter advises drinking plenty of water before, during and after activity in hot weather. Don't bother with sports drinks that claim to replace minerals. A balanced diet should provide all the minerals you need in ample supply.

Who sweats, and why? Men sweat a little more than women, but only because they have more sweat glands; the sexes seem to tolerate heat equally well. People in better condition sweat less, because their sweat glands operate more efficiently and actually help maintain a lower body temperature. People who lead sedentary lifestyles sweat more, because they get hotter faster. Is the sweatier athlete getting a better workout? Not necessarily. The sweat may just reflect a low level of conditioning.

Last but not least, why does sweat smell? Actually, it's only the nervous variety that has an odor. The smell results from the delicate interplay of the sweat's organic particles with bacteria on the skin's surface.

The best way to prevent the odor of sweat is to bathe frequently, using regular soap and water plus an antiperspirant. Antiperspirants fight odor four ways: by killing skin bacteria, masking odor with fragrance, absorbing sweat with powder and blocking sweat glands with aluminum salts.