You’ve left your spin class dripping with sweat – so you’ve had a better work out that the person next to you who just went a little pink? Unless you are a sweaty mess have you done enough?
It’s true that making sure you include physical activity that makes you puff and sweat is key to avoiding an early death according to scientists. One Australian study of middle-aged and older adults found the risk of mortality for those who included some vigorous activity in their lives was 9 to 13 per cent lower, compared with those who only undertook moderate activity.
“The benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active,” said lead author Dr Klaus Gebel from James Cook University’s Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention. “The results indicate that whether or not you are obese, and whether or not you have heart disease or diabetes, if you can manage some vigorous activity it could offer significant benefits for longevity.”
So if you get sweatier you’ve done more right? Wrong! Sweat is actually a poor indicator of how good your work out was.
Sweating is one of the ways that our body prevents itself from overheating. When your body temperature rises, your eccrine glands secrete sweat. This ensures you don’t get dangerously hot as our sweat response cools us down when sweat evaporates off our skin into the air. This response is unique in everyone and we all have our own ‘sweat threshold’. So while one person might find a 60 minute aerobics class leaves them saturated with sweat, another person could look like they have just arrived and only slightly pink in the cheeks. How much we sweat can be due to gender (men tend to sweat more than women) and age (younger people sweat more than older people), genetics, temperature, and humidity. Weight can make a difference too as larger people tend to sweat more because their bodies generate more heat.
Well here’s the unexpected news – people who are more physically fit are actually likely to sweat sooner and more readily than someone who is unfit! This is because the fitter you are the sooner your body’s thermoregulation system is likely to switch on and come into play. This is so you cool down faster and can work harder. There are a range of other factors which can also make a difference like temperature and humidity where you are working out too. If you do a hot yoga class or run on a hot day you will sweat more. Which is why some people love these classes as they just don’t feel like they’ve exercised hard enough unless they are pouring sweat, which is fine if you enjoy that drip because you are more likely to keep attending, but it doesn’t mean it’s better than a class in a cooler environment.
In a word: no! Sweating doesn’t mean you have burnt lots of calories. It just means that your body felt hot and needed to cool down in the best way it knows. If you jump on the scales and see you have lost weight after a sweaty work out this is not fat loss either. It’s simply water weight which you will gain back when you rehydrate. And it doesn’t mean you have burned less calories than in a class where you didn’t come out sodden with sweat though. It could be that your sweat evaporated quickly, you were in air-conditioning or near a fan, or outdoors on a windy day. Or maybe you are just not a very sweaty person!
You also shouldn’t avoid workouts that don’t make you sweat as they can be just as important for our health and fitness. Some yoga and Pilates may not have you perspiring but you will gain strength benefits and mediational and relaxational benefits.