I am becoming increasingly convinced that heat is the primary enemy of the body! Whether hot showers or baths, building up sweat, or using heat to relax and ‘warm up’ muscles, I am finding that there are far more negatives to heat than there are positives. When exercising, I have found that getting hot and building up a sweat is massively counterproductive. In fact, learning how to better manage body temperature and eliminating sweat has resulted in pain free exercise with little to no recuperation time post-workout.
To many, a good sweat is indicative of a good workout or exercise. The association makes good sense — exercise helps you feel better, gives you more energy, and helps build strength in your body. So when you get a great workout in, you expect to sweat. Yet, like almost everything in life, the obvious answer is rarely the correct one, and the false association between sweating and the positive effects of a workout are easy to make. A key for me to figuring this all out was understanding the role of sweat in the body, and what the results are.
Your body wants to keep your temperature the same at all times, regardless of effort or environment. This temperature homeostasis, known as euthermia, should be reflected as 98.6º F for your core body temperature. Any variation of either heating or cooling the body away from this temperature sets biological responses into effect that attempt to get it back there. If you get too cold, you start shivering to warm up. If you get really cold, blood flow slows to your extremities and stays around the core and keeps the organs working the best it can. If you get too hot, the body uses condensation cooling (sweat) to bring you back to the sacred 98.6º.
As you warm up, through exercise or otherwise, your body will begin to perspire. As water forms on the skin through your pores, a greater volume of blood is moved closer toward the outside of the body. By condensation the body uses your sweat to cool your blood down, which is then pumped through your body to cool your whole awesome self down! There are two problems with this when exercising: 1) You need your blood in your muscles since you are intentionally working them hard; and 2) You lose electrolytes through sweat. The first problem should be obvious — you want optimal blood flowing to the areas the are undergoing the greatest expenditure of effort.
The second problem, losing electrolytes, is also a problem. You’ve heard about electrolytes and you’ve probably assumed that they are important because athletes are always trying to replenish them. I have found, however, that not many people know what they actually do, so I’m going to give a very brief and pedestrian explanation of their purpose. Electrolytes serve to conduct electricity through your body, and your muscles and tissues use them to remain in communication with your nervous system. There are many types of electrolytes, with a primary one being sodium (Na). This is why your sweat is salty — it’s a sign that you are losing electrolytes. With all of the talk in athletics and sports drink advertising about replenishing your electrolytes, the much better strategy is never to lose them in the first place, and eliminating sweat is one substantial and primary way to do that.
I have a very specific and limited exercise plan which I only do three times per week. I do my exercises to complete muscle failure, meaning I do the exercise until I can’t do any more and then I do a couple more! Common sense would tell you that my muscles should be sore and would need time to recover, yet I have no muscle pain and a recovery time that is limited to minutes. This is due to several factors which are detailed in the Livtastic Health Plan, but the primary factor is eliminating heat buildup and the sweat response in my body. I start cold and immediately cold shower after my exercises.
I have also found that cold is great for helping reduce inflammation, spur my metabolism, improve my alertness, and help with fat loss. Not only do I take cold showers after exercise, I almost exclusively take cold showers every day. I strongly recommend that you work your way up to this! When I started, it felt like I was going into shock. Now, there are many times when I can’t get the water cold enough directly out of the shower head (I live in Phoenix and the water is not as cold as in almost all other areas). There is substantial scientific research about the nervous system and body temperature as well, particularly on how it affects the Nodes of Ranvier. I won’t go into detail here, but know that your nervous system can ‘fire’ more quickly with the appropriate amount of cooling.
Remember, your body wants to be 98.6º, whether you’re too hot or too cold. As I illustrated, there are some serious negatives to cooling when your body starts to sweat. When you are cold, however, I find that there are far fewer negatives if it is managed properly. Whether hot or cold, your body burns calories (it uses energy) to get you back to euthermia (normal body temperature). The fact is, your body can much more efficiently and effectively burn fat when working to attain euthermia from a cold state as opposed to trying to cool down.
So, with the lecture completed, it’s time to apply your knowledge! When you do exercise, there are several things that you can do:
1. Put an ice pack on your neck and shoulder area — This is close to your core but out of the way enough for most exercise that it’s not too much of a problem.
2. Exercise in a cold room or in cold environments as much as possible.
3. Keep your body cool, and cool down after working out. This is one of the reasons why swimmers look like Greek gods and goddesses — you don’t sweat in a pool and you stay cool/cold.
As with anything, you don’t want to overdue it and put yourself at health risk when keeping yourself cold; whether you’re working out, sitting in an ice bath, or taking a cold shower. I’m not a doctor, and you should consult yours before taking my advice! Fluctuation in body temperature can lead to hypothermia or heart attack and everything in between; so use common sense and caution!
The Livtastic Health Plan covers body temperature in more depth, including understanding how calories (units of energy) can be used to optimize fat loss instead of measuring food portion sizes (which I think is ridiculous). For now, try to avoid sweating when exercising and experiment with cold showers and ice packs as a way to help facilitate healing and overall health.