Summer is officially here, but we don’t need to look at the calendar to know that. With temperatures already approaching triple digits, we are well aware here in south Georgia that summer time has arrived.
As I was “sweating” to think of a topic for this week’s fitness article, I felt it appropriate for the season to discuss the act of sweating. When working out this time of year, especially outdoors, most of us know the importance of taking extra precautions to stay cool. However, many who exercise are under the assumption that by heating up and sweating more we will lose fat quicker. Unfortunately, sweating alone has absolutely nothing to do with fat burning. If sweating meant losing fat, all of us here in hot, humid Albany would be looking skinny!
I’m often amazed when I see someone wearing a sweat suit while running outdoors in 90-degree heat, or even worse, wearing a plastic bag or sauna suit. This idea came from wrestling and other sports where the athlete has to make weight for the event. Of course, any weight lost is quickly regained once the athlete rehydrates.
Extreme sweating not only is ineffective at fat burning, but dangerous to your health as well. Depleting your body’s precious water reserves can cause dehydration, loss of vital minerals and electrolytes, cause severe kidney damage and cardiovascular problems, among other health problems. The human body maintains a constant internal temperature. If that temperature rises too high, we die. The temperature at which we stop functioning is lower than the temperature at which fat as a substance melts, so “melting” fat by overheating is a myth.
In order to know why sweating alone doesn’t burn body fat, it is important to know how calories are burned. To burn calories, oxygen is required. The harder the exercise, the more oxygen is consumed. That’s why the harder your work, the harder you breathe. This is how metabolism is measured.
By measuring how much oxygen is inhaled and how much carbon dioxide is exhaled, it can be determined how many calories your body burns during an activity. Even though heat will make you breathe harder and your heart will work harder to keep muscles oxygenated while pumping blood to your skin’s surface to stay cool, the number of extra calories burned is relatively modest.
This also explains why you can’t lose fat sitting in a sauna. You lose weight temporarily through water loss, but you aren’t burning a significant amount of calories. If you workout in an extremely hot environment your body is directing more energy towards cooling off rather than the actual exercise, so it can actually be counter productive. You burn an insignificant amount of extra calories as well, not to mention you are uncomfortable
Although the act of sweating does little to help burn body fat, doing things that can make you sweat will. Sweating is an important, vital function with many health benefits. Our bodies produce sweat as a way to cool down. Sweat occurs when our body excretes water and dissolved salts through our sweat glands, along with a small amount of urea.
Sweating is the way in which our bodies regulate our body temperature so we don’t overheat as the evaporation of sweat from our skin’s surface has a significant cooling effect on the body. During exercise, when your muscles heat up from exertion, you will tend to sweat more, however the amount of sweat has nothing to do with how much fat you burn. It’s also not a good indicator of how effective your workout was. Some people naturally sweat more than others.
Basically, sweating is just a way to cool your body so that you don’t overheat, although some people prefer to workout in ways that actually make them sweat, so that they feel like they have worked hard. Others enjoy sweating while working out because they feel that it cleanses the body of toxins. In any case, the point is that if you are looking to burn body fat you need to do cardiovascular and strength training activities that are going to burn a significant amount of calories, and not just make you sweat.
Perry Buchanan, owner of PT Gym, is certified as a Health Fitness Specialist through the American College of Sports Medicine, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.