Sweating: How it Helps Us

I hate sweating.
It’s my least favorite summer activity by far.

Granted, when working out at UVAC, it is a year round activity…but I digress.
In the heat of the Vermont summer, sweating is inevitable. As a Midwest transplant, I thought I
was used to humidity; but all of that dense fog and moisture burns off on Michigan’s flat
farmland and industrial property. So the thick, muggy days that have been borderline
unbearable for me. On top of that, my tiny 4-bedroom apartment has one window AC unit
shared among four roommates and a demanding cat.

Needless to say, I have been sweating a lot. And as my least favorite summer activity, it was
starting to make me miserable. However, I noticed that every time I finished working out –
whether a short bike ride, a dog-walking gig, a jog, or just a jaunt to the mailbox – I cooled down
very quickly as soon as I got back to my room and stationed myself in front of my fan. This led
me to ask a question I was surprised I had never pondered much before: why do we sweat?

I knew that it was an important bodily function and that our bodies are supposed to do it. It can
even be healthy and helpful in removing toxins, which is why we have saunas and hot yoga. I
still wanted to know more though – why exactly is my body covered in beady saltwater, and how
is it serving me? Perhaps then, I reasoned, I would grow to appreciate the ever-present sweat
I’d have to come to terms with in my HVAC-less apartment.

My research first yielded exactly what I expected: sweat is made by our bodies to regulate our
temperature. This isn’t just by sweating “out” toxins or heat as I originally thought – but instead,
the condensation we are forming is what cools us down. The sweat, as a thin sheen of liquid
coating our skin, reacts with moving air and other atmospheric conditions to cool down a large
stretch of our body all at the same. The evaporation caused by the difference in temperature
between our internal and the external heat reacts to cool us down.

Humans are actually one of only two mammals on the entire Earth who are capable of running
long distances – horses being our counterpart. We evolved with the ability to create and produce
sweat efficiently. Who knew sweating was even something you could do with efficiency? Even
though we don’t have four legs (decreasing our overall speed in comparison to, say, a lion or
cheetah), we have something arguably cooler – endurance.

Part of this has to do with our brains. The hypothalamus reacts to rising core body
temperatures; anything above our usual 98.6 range, and the brain shouts to the body, “Hey!
Cool this place down!” Our bodies then turn the heat we are experiencing into energy – and that
energy is sent Priority Mail Express to our sweat glands. So our body is simultaneously cooling
us down by expending our heat, but the resulting energy is then used to create the sweat which
evaporates to cool us down even more.

So sure, my apartment might not have its own proper air conditioning…but if you think about it,
I’ve got a microscopic AC unit built right into my biology – we all do!

So next time you’re sweating as you lift weights on the mats in the gym, or pulling yourself out of
your shared lap lane, or pummeling your way through a kickboxing class, remember: your body
is doing so many cool things! (Pun most definitely intended).

By OK Stevens

See their website here: www.theokstevens.com

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