I don’t sweat, I glisten. I don’t sweat, I sparkle. I don’t sweat, I glow.
The mantras dot cups, tote bags, T-shirts, all kinds of inanimate objects. But sweating on a run isn't gross, or shameful. It’s to be celebrated—the receipt you get for moving your body.
So whether you're heading out for a run in this heatwave, or sweating it out cross-training in the gym, here's 11 reasons why those beads of sweat are actually good for you:
1. Sweat keeps us alive
Sweat exists for one reason: to maintain a body temp as close as possible to the optimal 37 degrees celcius. But during exercise, your blood flow ramps up to deliver more oxygen to your working muscles, raising your temperature and triggering your eccrine sweat glands. It’s not the drips of moisture that cool you, though. It’s when your sweat evaporates that you remove heat and lower your core temp. Put it this way: “If you didn’t sweat during even moderate activity, you’d overheat in 10 to 12 minutes,” says Christopher Minson, Ph.D., codirector of the Exercise and Environmental Physiology Labs at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The result? Potential fainting, heat stroke, kidney problems, and even death.
2. It helps you get fitter, faster
Inflammation is one of the biggest buzz kills for your metabolism and cardiovascular fitness, but when you sweat, you green-light a series of positive reactions: your heart rate speeds to keep blood pumping to your moving muscles, increasing blood flow and the strength of every contraction over time. You also dial up heat-shock proteins (a special set of responders that safeguard other proteins from damage); repair any damaged ones; and signal production of new, healthy proteins. Studies show these guys even block cells that activate inflammation in the body.
3. It gives you more energy for your run
The fitter you are, the faster you’ll sweat. Seems like it’d be the opposite, but: “when you sweat early into your workout, it means you’re able to regulate your temperature before it gets too high, which requires less energy,” says Lawrence Armstrong, Ph.D., director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Connecticut in Storrs. If you imagine your energy supply as a gas tank, saving energy on thermoregulation means you’ll have more energy to power your actual workout.
4. You'll boost strength and avoid cramp
Sweat is 99 percent water and 1 percent salt, potassium, and carbs. But that tiny sliver of lost salt is important: sodium helps balance the amount of water inside and outside your cells, as well as in your blood, in order to keep your body hydrated. Lose too much of it and you risk fatigue, muscle cramps, decreased strength—all things that make your performance plummet. The good news is, the more frequently you sweat, the better your body gets at conserving salt instead of letting it trickle out of your pores, says Armstrong. (Studies show eight to 14 consecutive days of exercising in heat can make a significant difference.) The best way to tell if you're getting in better shape? You see fewer white streaks from salt on your face or clothes, or notice less gritty-feeling skin post-workout.
5. It can help you recover faster
“When you’re working hard enough to sweat, your increased blood flow will carry more metabolites—or by-products from exercise-induced muscle damage—away from your muscles, which can help you feel less sore following your workout,” says Patricia Christie, Ph.D., head of biology and chemistry at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Experimental Study Group. The sweet spot is to be more than comfortably warm, but not so hot that you have to cut your workout short and hamper your results.
6. It keeps your liver healthy
Many believe a sweat session after a night of drinking or unhealthy eating will detox you. Science says otherwise. “Any waste you secrete through your sweat glands [in one workout] is too minimal to make a real difference,” says Minson. On the other hand, consistent cardio exercise, which typically gets us pretty sticky, can protect your liver, helping it do its job—ridding your body of substances that shouldn’t be there—particularly in the face of alcohol-related damage.
7. It guards against infection
Research shows more than 70 percent of bacteria found in the gym can make you sick. Lucky for us, our sweat contains a natural antibiotic called dermcidin, which can protect you from harmful pathogens (like E. coli and some strains of staph infections) by killing invaders on contact.
8. It helps you feel 'emotionally connected' to your workout...
“There is something emotionally transformative about getting really, profusely sweaty,” says Janet Buckworth, Ph.D., head of kinesiology at the University of Georgia in Athens. “We always worry about looking presentable, but being drenched in sweat forces you to shift your focus from your appearance to your experience.” As a result, you can fully immerse yourself in your run and lose the mental inhibitions that might stop you from giving it your all.
9. ...and more satisfied afterwards
That’s likely because sweat provides something that a single run cannot: immediate evidence of accomplishment. “Our bodies are never going to visibly change by the end of one run or strength-training session,” says Buckworth. “We know this, but we all crave instant proof of our hard work.” Sweat—be it a damp forehead or a drenched sports bra—is just that.
10. It can raise your self image
All it takes is 20 minutes of sweaty activity to feel stronger and even slimmer, per a new study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise. It's not just about the mood lift that comes with the release of endorphins: exercising at a moderate to vigorous intensity actually encourages you to see yourself in a new light right after the event, a perk that researchers say can improve your internal dialogue over time.
11. It hydrates your skin
How, you ask? The surface oil that sweat produces protects your skin from the drying effects of the elements, even after you've rinsed off, says dermatologist Neil Sadick, M.D. (And more moisturized skin = younger-looking skin.) To max out the moisture benefit, wash your face only when it feels oily—this will prevent you from messing with your skin's natural equilibrium. Sweat’s other complexion bonus? “It acts as a barrier, which can help prevent breakouts from outside bacteria,” Sadick adds. Just be sure to avoid causing acne, which happens when sweat sits long enough on skin to breed yeast, by washing your face ASAP after your workout.
A version of this article appeared on Womens Health US