Getting in a good sweat session is a key to health, but excessive sweating during your workout can be inconvenient. Sweating is protective and beneficial but can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are ways we can treat excessive sweating. We went directly to the experts to find out why we sweat, the factors behind how much we sweat, and what you can treat excessive sweating. Read on for what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
Why Do We Sweat?
Sweating is a protective process that humans have evolved to help keep us from overheating. As we sweat, the water evaporates on our skin, cooling us down.
“Water requires a significant amount of heat to change its temperature, so it is a potent means of dissipating heat through pores in the skin,” explains Santa Monica-based Rand McClain, doctor of osteopathic medicine and chief medical officer of LCR Health.
McClain also says sweating can occur when we feel certain emotions like anger, anxiety, stress, love, and excitement. Hormonal changes can also cause us to sweat or if we eat spicy foods or drink alcohol.
Benefits of Sweating
Besides cooling our skin, sweating provides some other benefits, too, says McClain and Greg Westmoreland, board-certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist at Texas Orthopedics in Austin:
- Filters toxins from the body—like arsenic, lead mercury, and cadmium
- Anti-aging effects
- Kills harmful bacteria on the skin’s surface
What It Means If You Sweat A Lot During Workouts
“In general, sweating means you are getting hot, which happens as muscles are exercised, and heat generates. Sweating “a lot” means you are likely exercising harder than usual or a lot and also that you may be doing so in a hotter than usual environment,” says McClain.
Westmoreland adds that sweating can be influenced by the clothing you are wearing and the indoor or outdoor temperature you are exercising. There is also a condition called hyperhidrosis, which can cause excessive sweating. Hyperhidrosis occurs in 3% to 6% of the population and causes you to sweat more than average from the hands, armpits, and feet.
What It Means If You Barely Sweat During Workouts
If you barely sweat during workouts, the simple answer could be that you aren’t working hard enough to induce sweating. How intensely you need to exercise to sweat depends on your conditioning. If you are an average gym-goer, you are most likely not getting your heart rate up enough to cause sweating. If you are an advanced-level athlete, you might have to work very hard to sweat a lot. However, McClain explains that some well-trained athletes are typically very “good at sweating” and tend to sweat a lot when exerting themselves to avoid overheating.
One other factor to be aware of is dehydration. Be sure to drink enough water before, during, and after working out so that your body can produce sweat. If you workout for over an hour or are in hot temperatures, you might want to consider replacing minerals like sodium, magnesium, and sugars lost during sweating. In this case, taking an electrolyte supplement is a good idea.
Factors That Affect How Much You Sweat
Aside from the environment, some factors can affect how much or how little a person will sweat, including:
- Age: Sweat glands shrink as we age, producing less sweat.
- Sex: Males sweat more than females.
- Fitness level: Higher-level athletes may sweat more easily but can take increased effort to sweat.
- Genetics: Your genetics can affect whether you sweat more or less, especially if you have a condition like hyperhidrosis.
Common Treatments For Excessive Sweating
Excessive sweating, in the real sense, only occurs if you have a condition like hyperhidrosis. All other sweating is a perfectly normal reaction to overheating. However, if you’d like to reduce the amount of sweat you produce during workouts, there are some treatments:
- Antiperspirant: Either regular or clinical strength, antiperspirant works by plugging your sweat glands.
- Clothing: Choosing loose-fitting clothing that wicks sweat will help keep sweat off of your skin.
- Armpit shields: Absorbent pads that stick to the inside of your clothing.
- Powders: Body and foot powders that absorb sweat.
- Drysol: Aluminum chloride hexahydrate, typically used for hyperhidrosis.
- Botulinum toxin injections: Botox is sometimes used to treat excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis).
- Drying medicines: Prevent the body from sweating, which can be dangerous.
- Prescription wipes: Pre-medicated wipes containing glycopyrronium tosylate to prevent excessive sweating.
Unless you have a medical condition, sweating a lot during your workouts is normal and even beneficial. By using antiperspirants and wearing loose-fitting, sweat-wicking clothing, you can feel much more comfortable while preventing the worst effects of sweating. Make sure you replace any fluids and electrolytes if you sweat a lot, especially in hot temperatures.
If you think you have hyperhidrosis, speak to your doctor about solutions that might help you.
Doolittle J, Walker P, Mills T, Thurston J. Hyperhidrosis: An Update on Prevalence and Severity in the United States. Arch Dermatol Res. 2016;308(10):743-749. doi:10.1007/s00403-016-1697-9