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Sweating is unavoidable, especially during the hot days of summer. You may try your best to avoid it, especially since it can be accompanied by an odor that may be unpleasant. However, despite its accompanying annoyances, sweating does more than simply keep you cool.
The use of sweating as a potential healing tool has been embraced for years by cultures around the world. Sweat lodges used by Native Americans provide aid in healing physical complaints and initiating spiritual purification. European bath houses have included wet and dry saunas for centuries, providing people with opportunities to socialize while receiving the physical benefits. These traditions have withstood the test of time as they have been adapted for use today to maintain health and well-being. You’ll still find sweat lodges, wet and dry saunas, and now even infrared saunas.
Essentially, sweating allows your body to regulate temperature and cool you down when you exercise, are too warm, or experience emotional stress. On average, you are born with between 2 to 4 million sweat glands that secrete a mixture of water, salt, and other substances, depending on hormone balance, physiological changes, and bacteria in the body.
There are two main ways in which you sweat:
Both glands are activated by nerves in the body responding to certain stimuli such as body temperature, hormones, emotions, and physical activity. You need to sweat for survival; sweat can enhance functioning of your bodily systems and create greater peace of mind. Here are seven reasons why it’s good to break out in a sweat.
Having clear and vibrant skin is a plus for most people. You may spend a lot of money trying to maintain a skincare routine that wards off issues such as acne, wrinkles, and dull-looking skin. An all-natural way to achieve great skin tone and health is through a healthy dose of sweat—ideally through exercise. When we sweat through exercise, or any type of physical exertion, the heart rate becomes elevated and there is an increase in circulation, encouraging a nice glow to the skin (you’ve probably noticed the healthy flush of skin from the boost of blood flow after a hot yoga class or a run). Sweating also requires more intake of water, which we all know is helpful for body functioning. While sweat itself doesn’t directly create healthy skin, the associated activities that promote healthy sweating do. For example, we are more inclined to eat healthy foods when following a consistent exercise routine or exploring alternative methods that promote sweat, such as saunas. Your skin will thank you by reflecting the inner you that is vital and strong.
The word toxins has become associated with hyped methods and products claiming to remove them. Many of these practices are not yet backed by research, however. The truth is that your body is perfectly capable of detoxing itself through critical organs such as the kidneys and liver. These serve as a filtering system, removing impurities from the blood in different ways: The kidneys filter blood and gets rid of waste and extra fluid in the form of urine, and the liver filters blood coming from the digestive tract, detoxifying and metabolizing it before passing it to the rest of the body. While recognizing the body’s ability to detox, it’ still important to be mindful of your exposure to harmful substances that place a burden on your body.
One study showed that sweat can be an effective pathway to detox the body. Attention has also been placed on the possibility of removal of heavy metals from the body through sweat. We all have some degree of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic, but if you are routinely exposed to high concentrations of these metals, their levels in your body can rise to harmful levels.
Interesting research has come out on sweat’s ability to secrete an antibiotic peptide called dermcidin. Most of us are familiar with antibiotics such as penicillin that we take to inhibit the growth of bacteria or to destroy it within or on the body. Antibiotics, also considered antimicrobials, are the first line of defense against bacteria, yeast, fungi etc. for multicellular organisms such as ourselves.
Dermcidin has proven to be formidable against several types of bacteria, including Staphylococuc aureus, which is known to be highly resistant to pharmaceutical antibiotics. Your skin has its own flora, or microorganisms, that are beneficial and protect you from harmful bacteria—a personal protective suit. It’s good to know sweat helps to preserve and maintain helpful micro-organisms on the skin with the potential to fight off the harmful ones.
After any good sweat session, such as a good workout or sauna, there is often an accompanying feeling of relaxation or euphoria. This is due to the increase in endorphin levels creating a more positive mood and enhancing an overall sense of well-being. Research has demonstrated the effects of stress on our physical and psychological well-being, and it’s something we can’t ignore. There are many tools we can use to reduce stress, including meditation, journaling, breathing exercises, and, of course, sweat-inducing activities that get the heart pumping.
Socializing is another activity that reduces stress, as human beings are communal creatures at heart. Sweat lodges, sauna bathing and bath houses traditionally brought people together to interact and share.
Sweat itself doesn’t cause weight loss, but the activities associated with it do. If you perspire quite a bit, there might be some accompanying water-weight loss. As with any sweat-inducing activity, the increase in metabolism and burning of more calories ultimately helps to achieve weight-loss goals.
If you are interested in trying something different, infrared saunas provide many healthful benefits, including the possibility of weight loss.
Keep in mind that sweat sessions (e.g., using a sauna and exercise help to cultivate a more positive outlook on life. When you feel better and more energized, you make better food choices, helping to shed unwanted weight.
Sweating boosts the flow of blood circulation to the muscles, decreasing recovery time for injury and muscle strain. The heat of a wet or dry sauna can also feel soothing on your body as your muscles relax. Medicinal herbs and essential oils such eucalyptus, rose, peppermint, and lavender are sometimes used in addition to heat and sweat, which help to ease muscle and joint pain through their anti-inflammatory properties. If appropriate, complementary therapies can also be helpful. For example, in one study, researchers have found that pain from fibromyalgia decreased with sauna therapy in combination with underwater exercise.
If you have tried sitting in a sauna, either wet or dry, you might have experienced the feeling of your heart beating faster and stronger. Despite your lack of movement, your cardiovascular system still has to work to eliminate heat, which means increased blood flow and quite a bit of sweating; it becomes the equivalent of performing mild exercise.
A study was done on the use of sauna treatments for improving cardiac functioning in patients with chronic heart failure, and the results showed improvement. Each time you sweat you do a little something to strengthen your heart; it can be as simple as gardening or as intense as sweat therapy.
One of the best ways to increase sweat production is good old-fashioned exercise; and performing it outside can be even better for total well-being. Cardio workouts, exercising in warm environments, such as hot yoga, and wearing insulated clothing can all contribute to increasing sweat production during exercise.
2. Infrared Sauna
This type of sweat therapy can be used to target specific issues such as weight loss, muscle-pain relief, and detoxification. Wellness centers are starting to offer the use of infrared saunas.
Check out Clearlight™ Infrared - makers of Jacuzzi® Saunas– they offer products with options to meet every need and use technology to maximize the benefit of infrared technology.
3. Swedana Massage
Swedana is a traditional Ayurvedic massage treatment that uses herbalized steam to open up your pores and help rid the body of impurities through the sweat glands.
4. Dry Sauna
Available in most spas and some gyms, dry sauna uses dry heat, which some people prefer.
5. Steam Room
Using steam has the added benefit of clearing congestion and relieving dry throat and nasal passages. It is a personal preference whether you choose to use the dry sauna or steam room.
It’s important to listen to your internal gauge for what feels good and what doesn’t. There is no need to make yourself feel miserable for the sake of the desired benefits. Also, give it some time. Your first experience with a sweat session may be intense. It may take a few sessions to start to feel better. Remember, everyone is different, and finding what works best for you means you will get the most out of the experience. Your body always finds a way to regulate itself, but sometimes it needs a little help.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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