Why Do We Sweat? Exploring The Science of Sweating

It's mid-summer and the thermometer is soaring. Temperatures are expected to be 90 degrees plus this month, with humidex or discomfort levels of at least 105. It's steamy and sticky – men will sweat, women will 'glow', and no matter what you call it, most of us will perspire in this sizzling weather.

Why do we sweat?

Sweating is an essential and natural biological process that starts soon after we are born. Sweating, or perspiring, is the body's mechanism of keeping us cool and preventing us from overheating in a warm environment or during exercise or exertion. Our body also produces sweat when we experience strong emotions or stressful situations, during hormonal changes and it helps to play a role in fighting infections.

Sweat is the body's main coolant and is a necessary 'evil'. When your body begins to overheat, either from exercise or high temperatures, your brain tells your 2.6 million sweat glands to kick into action. It's the evaporation of the moisture on your skin that cools your body (physics 101!).

It's possible to sweat out a gallon of perspiration in one hour if you're working out at high intensity, and professional athletes can sweat double that amount in the same amount of time.

It's not just heavy exercise or high temperatures that can induce perspiration. Some people sweat when they are nervous because the sweat glands are connected to our fight-or flight mechanisms. This condition is known as hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating without a known cause or trigger, and secondary hyperhidrosis is triggered by specific cues, including anxiety or fear, and is considered to be a type of social phobia.

So now that we know what causes sweating, what can we do about it? Let's tackle nervous perspiration first because frankly, it stinks. It's easy to take care of if you wash with good old soap and water, then apply antiperspirant – twice a day if necessary.

Did you know you can use antiperspirant anywhere on your body, including the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet? Yes you can, so apply antiperspirant liberally anywhere you need to.

Exercise and heat-induced sweating requires vigilant hydration, so drink, drink then drink some more water. You may or may not feel thirsty, so remember your water bottle and replenish the fluid you're sweating out. Dehydration is quite unpleasant, and can cause headaches, dizziness and nausea.

The science of sweating, summed up

Stay out of intense heat if you can, wear light breathable cotton clothing and do not exercise outside when the sun is high. What's the most important thing you can do when you're sweating? Drink your water – lots of it!