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Surprising Stats About Sweat

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It's hot out, you've just finished a bike ride, and you're dripping. The sweat you're wiping away is more than just the result of a killer workout or the steamy summer temperatures, though. It's actually a clue to what you're thinking and feeling. The compounds in perspiration send out a particular scent that can telegraph your mood to the people around you, research has found. Sweat glands are also a surprising source of injury-treating stem cells, which means that your perspiration may someday heal you. Who knew something so icky could be so powerful? But while sweat may be a miracle liquid in the lab, no one wants it to linger too long. Here's how to get it under control.

Your Body on Sweat

When you do any physical activity, your temperature rises, triggering your brain to release the chemical acetylcholine, which then travels down your spinal cord and into the millions of eccrine sweat glands all over your body. "Acetylcholine prompts the eccrine glands to pull water and salt from the blood to the skin's surface to help cool us down," says Purvisha Patel, MD, a dermatologist for Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Associates in Memphis.

Apocrine glands, the other type of sweat glands we have, are concentrated in areas abundant in hair follicles, like the armpits, chest and groin. They're activated by anxiety and stress. These glands are primarily the ones that make you smell less than fresh. "The apocrine glands secrete an oily substance that, when combined with the bacteria already on your skin, produces odor," says Dee Anna Glaser, MD, a professor of dermatology at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Likewise, when you're sweaty from an exercise session, your skin becomes the moist environment where bacteria grow. It's the bacteria, not the sweat, that cause odor and clog pores, which can lead to breakouts."

How much we sweat is mostly due to genetics, says Heather Woolery-Lloyd, MD, a dermatologist and the director of ethnic skin care at the University of Miami. Other determining factors include how athletic we are and how conditioned we are to heat. Studies have found that elite athletes are more efficient than the rest of us at cooling their bodies through perspiration. "The fitter you are, the faster your brain triggers sweat production," says Candace Spann, MD, a dermatologist in Las Vegas. That way, your body gets rid of excess heat before your internal temperature reaches the this-is-way-too-hot mark, which allows you to work out longer and harder.

Where you live also plays a role in perspiration: People who exercise in tropical temperatures sweat more than people who work out in more temperate locales. "After acclimatizing to the heat, we perspire more and at a faster rate," Dr. Spann says. That's why it's essential to drink plenty of water when you work out, because you can lose up to three liters' worth in an hour on a hot day. Weigh yourself before you exercise and again afterward, and sip an extra 16 ounces for every pound lost.

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