Going for a run after a big night out, hitting the sauna to lose a few kilograms, or joining a hot yoga class when you feel a cold coming on. These activities may leave you as sweaty as intended, but does sweating really cleanse your system or is it just a big fat myth?
There are many schools of thought when it comes to the term ‘sweat it out’. It’s hard to tell if the “helpful” advice you’ve been given is doing any good – so let’s bust the myths.
THE PURPOSE OF SWEAT
Generally, the harder you work, the more calories you burn from both fat and carbohydrates. But these components are not ‘sweated out’.
The purpose of sweating is to help regulate body temperature and the amount you sweat is highly individual. It’s affected by factors such as air temperature, humidity, the clothes you wear, and your fitness level. Interestingly, the fitter you become, the more you tend to sweat. Why? Your body becomes a more efficient cooling system, allowing you to exercise for longer.
MYTH: SWEAT RELEASES TOXINS
Sweating out toxins is one of the most commonly listed benefits of doing hot yoga or using a sauna. Some even see it as a hangover cure after a big night out. The truth is, ‘toxins’ are not a component of sweat. Sweat is made up of 99% water, with the other 1% being small (and I mean very small) amounts of salts, sugars, and trace minerals.
Your kidney and liver are the main organs responsible for ridding the body of toxins, which are excreted when you go to the bathroom, and very little through the skin. This doesn’t mean you should give up on hot yoga, there are plenty of other benefits including increased flexibility, strength and improved posture.
MYTH: YOU CAN SWEAT OUT A COLD
One benefit of regular exercise is that it boosts the immune system, preventing you from getting too many colds and flus. How? Regular activity increases the circulation of natural killer cells that help fight off viruses and bacteria. But does this natural defense system work the same once you’re already sick? Unfortunately not.
There’s no scientific evidence that supports working up a sweat will get rid of your cold. If you do go for a run or brisk walk when moderately sick, you might feel better due to an endorphin boost, however it’s best to avoid strenuous and prolonged exercise, as it will place an additional stressful burden on your already stressed system (aka exercise-induced immunosuspression). In other words, the immune system becomes temporarily depressed after heavy bouts of exercise, which can prolong and worsen symptoms.
MYTH: SWEAT IS FAT CRYING
You may have heard the term ‘sweat is like fat crying’. Excessive sweating to lose weight is a method commonly used by boxers and jockeys to help them reach a certain weight division before an event. However, this weight loss is from water (not fat) which is temporary and will be reversed when you drink. What’s more, severe dehydration from prolonged sauna use can be extremely dangerous and can affect exercise performance.
Your best bet for losing weight is to exercise regularly with cardio and weights, and eat a well-balanced diet. If you do choose to use a sauna for relaxation, be sure to keep up your fluids to prevent any dehydration.