We, humans, are the only animal on the planet that uses sweating as our primary method of cooling. Only mammals have sweat glands, but other mammals primarily use panting to cool down. There might well be a link between our ability to perspire and our position as the dominant species.
For thousands of years, we’ve been intentionally making ourselves sweat. From the Romans oiling themselves up and wrestling in the sun to the Finnish saunas dating back to the 12th century, we’ve long taken advantage of the positive effects that sweating can bring.
If we’ve been doing it for that long, there’s probably going to be a good reason. So, what are the health benefits of sweating?
Regulates Body Temperature
The primary benefit of sweating is its main function: to help keep your body at the right temperature. This is absolutely vital to your survival. The human body is quite sensitive to extremes of temperature, and our normal body temperature only has a range of less than 2°F (from 97.7 to 99.5 °F).
First and foremost, then, sweating helps to stop you from overheating, using evaporation to transfer heat from your skin to the air around you. It’s less effective when the environment is humid, though a fan can help the water to evaporate off and thus cool you more efficiently.
Removes Heavy Metals from the Body
Thanks to our deleterious modern way of life, the atmosphere and both our food and water supplies are increasingly full of damaging heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. Luckily for us, sweating is one of the main methods the body uses to purge these elements from your system.
It’s pretty effective too. One study showed that patients with toxic levels of mercury in their body had returned to safe levels again after some time spent sweating. Another study showed that sweating is a more effective method for detoxing heavy metals than urination. That makes it especially beneficial for those of us living in an urban environment, where pollution is at its worst.
Helps the Body Remove Other Harmful Chemicals
In a similar fashion to heavy metals, sweating also helps remove other harmful chemicals from your body. For example, BPA, a toxic chemical found in some plastics (such as cheap water bottles), is more effectively purged via sweat than any other method.
Other chemicals like PCBs (a cancer-causing chemical found in older electronic equipment), and PBDEs (a common flame retardant that has been shown to reduce fertility) can only be excreted by sweating. So, don’t give the IT guy a hard time if he’s got a bit of a sheen on – it’s probably extending his lifespan.
Sweat has quite recently been proven to contain antimicrobial proteins such as dermcidin, which attack harmful bacteria on the skin’s surface. It’s been shown to reduce the chances of getting the flu by a third, and it helps to fight off illnesses like E. coli and HIV. Sweating also reduces the likelihood of infection when you have a cut or graze, and helps keep you healthy.
Exercise and using a sauna, which are two of the main ways for making yourself sweat, also have benefits of their own. They increase your overall health, improve your immune system, and help your body fight off disease and infection.
Reduces the Risk of Kidney Stones
Your body has a finite supply of water, so the more you sweat, the more you need to drink. This is actually good for you, as your kidneys rely on a steady flow of water through them in order to flush out waste products. If your kidneys aren’t getting regular flushing, you’re much more likely to contract kidney stones due to the buildup of sodium and calcium.
This is especially important for people whose lifestyle means that they can’t go to the toilet whenever they want, as well as those who have a diet high in fats and salt, as they are at more of a risk from this agonizing affliction.
Improves Skin Health
Regular sweating helps improve the speed at which new cells are created in your skin, improving its appearance. It also helps your skin to flush out dirt, reducing the likelihood of breaking out in zits. This, combined with the fact that it can encourage the growth of helpful skin bacteria, and that it kills harmful bacteria, means that getting a good sweat on can leave you looking fresh-faced and healthy.
Just don’t forget to shower after you’ve been sweating for a while, and to wash your face occasionally. Otherwise, the dirt will stick around, and your pores will clog up despite your best efforts.
As an extra bonus, perspiration also preserves the skin’s acid mantle, which is another method your body uses to prevent infections by bacteria and other pathogens.
Sweating has been shown to increase the production of Human Growth Hormone, which is instrumental in the repair of damage done to your body, as well as muscle growth. It also encourages blood flow to the skeletal muscles, which reduces the recovery time after illness and injury.
Boosts Sexual Drive and Attraction
There are two types of sweat glands: eccrine and apocrine. The vast majority of them are eccrine glands, while apocrine glands are found in the armpits and crotch. Sweat from apocrine glands contains pheromones, and a study has shown that men who have been sweating are more attractive to women, as long as they don’t let the sweat linger. The composition of apocrine sweat includes bacteria that can cause body odor if they’re left to multiply.
Do Sweat It!
Despite there being a wide range of antiperspirant products on the market, sweating is actually very good for your body, as long as you maintain your hygiene. Perspiration keeps you cool, keeps you looking young, and keeps you healthy in a number of different ways. Now that you know some of the health benefits of sweating, maybe it’s time to check out the local sauna or to pull on your old running shoes.