Have you ever thought: Why do I sweat so much when I work out? Well, excessive sweating during exercise isn't necessarily a bad thing: It usually means your body is cooling itself off.
However, extreme sweating or a sudden change in your sweat patterns can signal health problems.
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Why Do We Sweat?
Here's what sweat means and what its benefits are: It's your body's way of naturally regulating its temperature, according to Michigan State University. When your body heats up — due to exercise, sickness or a hot environment, for instance — your skin glands release water, which cools you down as it evaporates.
In other words, you may be sweating a lot during a workout to keep your body temperature stable while you exert. (Does sweating during exercise burn fat? No, it doesn't mean you're burning fat right then and there. Losing body fat takes time, but the key is eating nutritious foods and exercising regularly.)
The amount of sweat you produce depends on factors like genetics and weather. So if you notice too much sweating during exercise, this may not actually be cause for concern. Still, if you also sweat a lot at unusual times or your sweat patterns suddenly change, it can indicate certain health problems.
What Is Normal Sweating?
Not everybody sweats the same amount, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), so what's normal for you may not be for someone else. In general, though, people assigned male at birth tend to sweat more than people assigned female at birth.
Are you more athletic if you sweat more? You may sweat more if you have a high fitness level, according to TrainingPeaks, a coaching service for endurance athletes. The better shape you're in, your body becomes better at regulating your body temperature, and the more you might sweat. But sweating during a workout doesn't mean you got a better workout than if you hadn't sweat during it.
But if you're drenching your clothes or sweat is dripping off of your hands even when you're not exercising, that could be a sign of an underlying health condition (more on that later).
On the other hand, if you don't usually sweat during a workout, that's not automatically cause for concern either — you may not be exerting yourself enough or are in a cool environment, for example, as LIVESTRONG.com previously reported.
However, a lack of sweating may mean "your body cannot reach a stable temperature and has the potential to overheat," according to Eric Ascher, DO, a family physician with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. This may lead to heat exhaustion, heatstroke and possibly death if prolonged, he says.
You should see a doctor if you notice any changes in how your body sweats or if you're experiencing heatstroke symptoms, which is when your body temperature reaches 103 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
To help you get to the bottom of your perspiration patterns and answer the question "why do I sweat so much during a workout?" here's what it means if you sweat a lot and the causes of excessive sweating while working out.
1. You Exercise Regularly
One common reason why you sweat so much when working out is your exercise habits.
Though you might not love the amount of sweat dripping from your body after an intense workout, what you may not realize is the more your body adapts to physical activity, the more you sweat (and this is a good thing).
When you exercise regularly, your sweat physiology actually changes, says Rob Raponi, a naturopathic physician and certified sports nutritionist.
"This is a smart and necessary adaptation because your body begins to cool you sooner into your workout and more efficiently, [as] it has been primed to know that you're going to keep working out and need to stay cool," he says.
In other words, excessive sweating when exercising is a sign your body knows how to chill out (literally). So if you find yourself wondering what it means if you are sweating a lot, blame it on your workout.
If you can't stop sweating after exercise, it may indicate you had a high-intensity workout, skipped your cool down or aren't wearing breathable gear. It can also occur if you immediately hop into a hot shower or eat or drink something hot.
2. You're Genetically Predisposed to Sweating More
In addition to adaptation, your body also sweats differently because of genetics. Sometimes we're just dealt a hand we have little influence over, Raponi says. "Some of us just sweat more and easier than others, while some seem to not sweat at all," he says.
Whether this is an evolutionary trait developed over time or some sort of lucky (or unlucky) mixing of genes, Raponi says we really have no control over some things, and sweating is one of them.
So if you've always wondered why you sweat more than others, this may be a reason.
Is Sweating Good for Your Skin?
There are a number of benefits sweating has on your skin, according to U.S. Dermatology Partners. These include:
- Hydrating and exfoliating your skin
- Killing harmful bacteria on your skin
- Promoting better circulation
However, sweat can cause clogged pores, dry skin and chafing, per U.S. Dermatology partners. Be sure to drink water before, during and after sweating and cleanse your skin afterward.
3. You're Working Out in a Hot Environment
It's no secret that hotter temperatures increase how much you sweat. That's why you may notice excessive sweating when working out in the sun or heat, and it happens because your body needs a way to cool down, per the Cleveland Clinic.
But, Raponi says, another factor that often gets overlooked is humidity.
"On a humid day when moisture in the air is high, evaporation takes place at a much slower pace," he says. "The air is saturated with water already and simply does not want to absorb anymore; this includes the sweat off your body."
Because a vast majority of the cooling that occurs with sweating relies on evaporation taking place, the body must work harder to release more sweat in an attempt to bring as much heat away from its core as possible, Raponi says.
The takeaway: You need to be extra careful when working out in the heat and humidity.
Remember to Stay Hydrated
Skimping on hydration is not the solution to excessive perspiring: It's important to drink plenty of fluids to replace any liquid lost through sweating to avoid becoming dehydrated.
If you had an extra-sweaty workout or participated in prolonged activity, it may also help to sip fluids containing electrolytes, like a sports drink, per the NLM.
4. You Have Hyperhidrosis
What does it mean if you sweat a lot outside of exercise as well as during physical activity?
Sweating excessively or unpredictably without any apparent trigger is a sign of hyperhidrosis, a condition where overactive sweat glands cause sweating in excess of what you need for thermoregulation, according to the NLM.
Vincent Meoli, MD, regional medical director at American Family Care, says it's most commonly idiopathic (meaning it has no underlying cause) and is not considered dangerous.
However, hyperhidrosis can cause significant social stress for people who have it. Dr. Meoli says there are a variety of treatments like antiperspirants, Botox injections and using microwave thermolysis to destroy overactive glands, so talk to your doctor to determine if one of these remedies is right for you.
Here's how to differentiate hyperhidrosis from more typical heavy sweating: Hyperhidrosis can cause sweating so severe that it drenches your clothes or drips off your hands, per the Mayo Clinic.
5. You Have Another Medical Condition
Hyperhidrosis isn't the only disorder that can cause excessive sweating during exercise or inactivity — another condition may be to blame.
Per the NLM, other health problems that can cause excessive sweating include:
- Anxiety disorders
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Glucose control disorders
- Heart disease
- Heart attack
- Overactive thyroid
- Lung disease
- Parkinson's disease
- Adrenal gland tumors
- Spinal cord injury
According to the the Mayo Clinic and NLM, warning signs that your heavy sweating requires medical attention include:
- Weight loss
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating so severe it interferes with your life or mood
- Sudden changes in your body's sweat response
If you experience heavy, cold sweating along with lightheadedness, chest pain or nausea, seek medical attention immediately, as these can be signs of a heart attack, per the Mayo Clinic.
- Michigan State University: "Is Sweating Good for You?"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Sweating"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hyperhidrosis"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Hyperhidrosis"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Here’s Why Some People Sweat More Than Others"
- Mayo Clinic: "Heart attack"
- TrainingPeaks: "Why Do You Sweat More as You Gain Fitness?"
- U.S. Dermatology Partners: "Is Sweating Good for Your Skin?"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.