Sweat. We all do it and it’s a necessary function of human physiology.
When the body responds to the rise in temperature from physical activity by producing sweat, we typically perspire from the eccrine sweat glands that are present all over our bodies. This type of perspiration is mostly water that has no smell, containing trace amounts of fat as well as electrolytes such as sodium, calcium, and potassium.
While sweating in response to heat may seem like more of an uncomfortable (and possibly even disgusting) inconvenience, it actually does our bodies a lot of good. Besides acting like our very own internal air conditioner, there are so many other reasons to embrace the sweat.
Substances that typically enter the body through food and beverage consumption are released through sweat. Research has shown that induced perspiration may help people release potentially toxic phthalates like DEHP and MEHP.
The opening of the pores from sweating is a great opportunity for the skin to cleanse itself of the buildup of toxic substances that may worsen skin conditions like acne breakouts and blackheads. One study found several heavy metals — arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury — were effectively removed through sweat.
Ever see a super fit individual at the gym or in your yoga class completely drenched in sweat? That’s not a coincidence. It turns out that the fittest people have been scientifically shown to sweat more than people who aren’t as fit.
Most people are somewhat aware of the link between exercise and endorphins — hormones that the body produces to make us feel good. While sweating itself won’t help generate a mood boost, working up a sweat through exercise (that you ideally enjoy doing) definitely should.
Sweat and Bikram Yoga
So, if sweat is so great, should we all take up Bikram or “hot” yoga? This is a style of Hatha yoga that involves performing a series of asanas in a much warmer than normal environment — typically around 104 degrees Fahrenheit / 40 degrees Celsius and 40 percent humidity.
Hot yoga is said to help improve lower body strength, range in motion all over the body, and balance. There have even been claims that it may improve glucose tolerance, bone density, blood lipid profile, arterial stiffness, mindfulness, and stress — but in terms of scientific findings, there isn’t much to show for it.
In an interview with TIME, exercise scientist Dr. Brian L. Tracy talked about a couple of experiments he conducted with participants willing to practice Bikram yoga. Inexperienced yogis involved in the first experiment definitely showed some of the benefits of improved strength and balance plus a very small amount of weight loss, but experienced yogis’ metabolic rates were shown to be around the same of what people generally experience from a brisk walk.
So, while hot yoga may feel like it’s a heck of a lot harder than anything else, it may not be as beneficial as any other style of yoga or form of exercise. According to Dr. Tracy, men on average burn about 460 calories while women burn about 330 during an average session — far from the 1,000 calories many say you can burn. If you do enjoy it, though, there’s no reason to stop.
As a final point, remember that sweating too much isn’t always such a great thing. If you’re exhausted, overheated, dehydrated, or nutrient depleted, make sure you rest up and give your body what it needs.
Still hate sweating? A good workout doesn’t have to involve getting drenched. Here are some extra tips for managing sweat while practicing yoga.
Image (edited) via FireHawk Hulin