Caffeine, medication, skin disorders, health problems, menopausal hot flashes and genetics could all affect how much you sweat. Picture: 123RF/MARIIA PLOSHIKHINA
Caffeine, medication, skin disorders, health problems, menopausal hot flashes and genetics could all affect how much you sweat. Picture: 123RF/MARIIA PLOSHIKHINA

Q: I take exercising very seriously, but I am finding that I am sweating so much more during training than before. Is it because we’re in spring or am I becoming more unfit? Either way, it’s embarrassing.

A: Don’t sweat the petty things, perspiration is a normal body function. Unless you’re a hipster, because then you turn up the heating before it’s cool.

Sweating is a very important physiological process. It is one of the main ways your body prevents your core temperature from reaching dangerous levels.

Very simply put, when you become hot, or you start to overheat, your body sends signals to your sweat glands to get their act in order and start producing droplets of sweat on your skin. Then, as the sweat evaporates, it lowers your body temperature.

When blood sugar levels dip below normal, you may also hit a sweat, accompanied by the shakes.

But you already know this. You also know that when you are nervous or afraid you hit a sweat. Like now, waiting for the answer to your question.

The fitter you are, the quicker your sweat response kicks in, and the more you sweat to keep you cooler in order to maintain the effort.
Devlin Brown

Exercise almost always causes sweating. Make peace with that. The good news is, that with like-for-like intensity, the fitter you are, the quicker and more you sweat. That is a research-based fact. 

In a peer-reviewed study published in 2014, titled “Long-distance runners present [more] upregulated sweating responses than sedentary counterparts” the authors conclude:

“… routine long-distance runners exhibited higher sweat responses after evoked sweating due to shorter sweat onset time and higher sweat output per sweat gland. Therefore, our findings suggest that routine long-distance running result in upregulated sweating responses …”

Anecdotally this carries over to all fitness buffs and not just those who run for days. The theory goes that the fitter you are, the harder you can work and the more power you can produce for longer periods. This energy output increases your body temperature, which needs to be cooled. Therefore, the fitter you are, the quicker your sweat response kicks in, and the more you sweat to keep you cooler to maintain the effort.

What we are talking about here is working at a high intensity, possibly close to your VO2 max. Obviously, an unfit person will sweat before a fit person performing the same activity. This is because they are having to produce relatively more effort for what a fit person may find easy.

However, put the fit and unfit person in a situation where both are working at capacity and close to their maximum, and the fit person will sweat quicker and more profusely.

Another reason could be that you have gained weight — more weight means more sweating during physical activity because of the greater effort required to move, as well as the insulating effects of the extra layer of adipose tissue.

The environment also plays a role. Humidity and heat are obvious contributors to greater levels of sweat. So too clothing — some fabrics are simply not made to keep you cool. Bizarrely, in another study a team of “trained sniffers”, yes humans, sniffed the clothing of people postexercise and found that polyester is the least friendly when it comes to odour.

Caffeine, medication, skin disorders, other health problems, menopausal hot flashes and genetics could also affect how much you sweat. Your increased perspiration could really be caused by a host of factors, and you should monitor your body and seek professional advice if anything is drastically out of the ordinary.

However, judging by your question, and assuming you are in perfectly good health and haven’t moved to Durban, it could well be a sign that you are becoming fitter and more conditioned. Congratulations.

For the sake of those training around you, perhaps it’s time to rethink the polyester.