The sex of sweat

Sweating is an underrated skill. You need to do it in order to cool yourself down when your core body temperature starts to rise. Those who sweat well are able to exercise longer for this reason. Now a new study has suggested some answers as to why there is such a difference between the sexes when it comes to sweating.

In the study there were four groups of people; women who did not exercise, women who exercised regularly, men who did not exercise, and men who exercised regularly. Each subject was asked to ride on an exercise bike for a period of an hour. Over the course of that hour the intensity of the exercise increased at various stages.

Throughout the study the sweat response was monitored to see which groups would start sweating first.

The results showed that men start sweating at a lower core body temperature than women. That is, they had a more efficient sweat response. The women who did not exercise had the least efficient response with their core body temperature having to go much higher before they would start sweating. Regular exercise is known to reduce the body’s core temperature threshold before sweating but why the difference between the sexes?

These researchers put forward a couple of answers to this question. Firstly, women generally have less body fluid than men and so need to hang onto what they have more rigorously. They also point out that testosterone is believed to promote the sweat response. Regular exercise can increase testosterone levels in women and men which may explain why training helps. The difference between the sexes also makes sense from an evolutionary perspective.

Let’s hark back to our hunter-gatherer forebears for a moment. If you are a male and are going to be spending a day jogging after a recalcitrant mammoth who would rather not become your next floor rug, shoulder wrap and dinner for the next six months: you need to keep your core temperature down and you need to sweat. Those who sweat best will be those who eat best, have the best cave accoutrements, and who survive.

On the other hand while her man was out posturing on the hunt, our female ancestor was home trying to encourage reluctant tubers to relinquish their grip on the soil. This does not require a profound ability to sweat but does foster patience, appreciation of nature’s rhythms, a keen sense of hygiene, and the ability to generate conversation out of what mammoth fat does for the skin.

There you have it then; body fluid, testosterone, and a few millennia of evolution are the reason why men perspire and women glisten.

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The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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