Sweat! Sweat! Sweat!

How to let it go this summer without the accompanying blood and tears

Photo Illustration by Ted Angel

Editor’s note: Ah, sweet sweat! My second favorite bodily fluid! When I was younger, I used to sweat like a pig, and many of the women, they really loved that. So, it was a real surprise to me when, many years later, some women began to complain about me acting like a pig. Thankfully, it was my dear, sweet wife, Mariah, who stood beside me and pointed out that pigs actually do not sweat. As a matter of fact, she says that they couldn’t even if they wanted to, because they do not have sweat glands. So, maybe you have to ask yourself, now who’s the pig? It makes you want to think …

By SN&R Summer Guide Team

Start here, on the surface of your sun-drenched skin, because this is where Sacramento’s sultry summer months make themselves most apparent.

Look closely at a forearm, a glistening palm or perhaps another person’s moist brow, and you can see where the dry-heat rubber hits the road of salty excretion—through millions of glands that spout from the dermis out to the surface of the human body.

This is sweat. It is the body’s built-in cooling system. And, just like air-conditioning units throughout the city blowing 72-degree air round the clock, our sweat glands kick into overtime during the summer like the perspiration-pushing machines that they are. That means moist patches at the underarms, chafing between the thighs, unpleasant odors, a general irritability and the constant need for beverages that come with the clinky-clink sound of ice cubes against glass.

So, if you’re looking to punch Sacramento’s scorching summer heat in its arid 100-degrees-in-the-shade face, ball your clammy-palmed hand into a fist and read on.

Sweating is the body’s way of regulating its core temperature. Lungs inflating, heart pumping, blood flowing through vessels, muscles contracting—they all generate heat. Anything that causes even a slight uptick from about 98.6 degrees will be conveyed to the brain, which is constantly receiving information from the body about its temperature, according to Dr. Max Testa.

“It’s like a thermostat,” said Testa, who practices sports medicine at the UC Davis Medical Center and who often advises athletes in how to sweat properly. “And it’s set in a very precise range.”

Physical exertion can trigger that thermostat. So can stress, anxiety, lust or a trip to the sauna. Here in the capital city, where it swelters from sunup to sundown, your body’s temperature can rise even while you are sitting, motionless. The sun’s rays elevate the temperature of the air, causing your heart to beat a bit faster, and that cardiovascular workout raises your body temperature.

Then, the brain sends a signal to the millions of sweat glands over the body to start producing sweat, a liquid that is 99-percent water but also contains electrolytes, such as sodium chloride.

The water is filtered out of the body through sweat pores. The palms of hands and the soles of feet have high concentrations of sweat glands, as do any areas that can grow hair. The sweat reaches the surface of the skin and then evaporates into the air, lowering the body’s temperature.

The instinct here, as the backs of your thighs are sticking to your now-moist chair, may be to simply jump into the American River. It’s probably a good instinct. The water will cool the skin and bring your body’s temperature back down to normal. But, for those who aren’t near a body of water, or can’t swim, or for some reason choose to spend the summer months biking along the causeway, hiking in the foothills or running in 10Ks, there are other ways to beat the sweat. Or, rather, to embrace it.

The first rule, according to Testa: Drink early and drink often. By the time thirst kicks in, it’s too late, Testa said. If you are planning on exercising—or, if you simply plan to sweat a lot—drink fluids in the hour beforehand. Try to drink something with electrolytes and carbohydrates in it, he said.

The good news is that people who live in hot climates sweat better, according to Testa. Under duress, instead of leaking a liter of liquid an hour, Sacramentans are able to filter out perhaps two liters of sweat in the same amount of time. Yeah!

“Athletes and people who grew up here sweat more efficiently,” Testa said. “They lose more water and keep more salt.”

But keep in mind that the body can sweat too much. When sweat is squeezing to the skin’s surface but not evaporating into the environment, it’s not doing any good—just making you wet and miserable.

“If it stays on the skin, there’s no cooling effect,” Testa said.

That happens often in humid climates. The Sacramento area does not experience much humidity in the summer, so that is not usually a problem here. But, judging by the rain we’ve had in mid-May, anything could happen. So, if there does happen to be an extremely humid day here this summer, try to exercise in the air-conditioned indoors of an athletic club instead.

You also may want to exercise your four-legged friend indoors. Too much tug-of-war and Frisbee toss out in the sun could cause a dog to overheat. That’s because dogs don’t sweat.

Well, they sweat a bit, through the pads of their paws. But dogs, and many other animals, cool themselves by panting. They rapidly take in cooler air and release warmer air. Moisture evaporates through their mouths, lowering their body temperature.

This, of course, begs a question: Why don’t we humans pant to cool ourselves off?

The answer: because we’d get lightheaded and pass out. Humans haven’t honed the skill of breathing shallowly for the purpose of temperature regulation. We breathe deeply toward a different and, some would say, much more important goal: getting oxygen into our bloodstream and to our brains.

Then there’s the perennial urge to escape heat and sweat altogether. To do that (while at the same time avoiding sky-high electricity bills, exercise or relocation to a milder climate), you can always just steal your AC. On hot, hot days, many Sacramentans head to movie theaters for a double dose of escapism: the artificially cool air with a side of loosely plotted entertainment. But it is much cheaper to simply hang out for hours at an air-conditioned bookstore, reading magazines and novels while enjoying the temperate air. It’s for your health, really.

Another place to pilfer chilled ventilation is inside any public building. Tax dollars are, after all, powering the fans there. At the county and federal courthouses downtown, the cool air of the courtroom comes with real-life drama. Ask for the arraignment court for the most action. Also, the basement of the Capitol building stays cool. There’s a cafeteria there and a steady stream of political staffers, lobbyists and tourists to watch and eavesdrop on.

If you really want to flip a sweaty middle finger at the triple-digit degrees, try the opposite approach and take a stroll over to a “hot yoga” room, like the one at the corner of 16th and X streets—Bikram’s Yoga College of India. There, owner Susan Jones can demonstrate for you the virtues of sweating.

Bikram yoga is performed in a room heated to 110 degrees and kept at a high level of humidity. The theory: The heat helps the body’s muscles to stretch. The heat also gets the heart pumping faster, pushing blood more quickly through the body and its filtering systems.

Jones said sweating has a purifying effect, helping to release toxins from the body. Testa, back at the sports-medicine laboratory, disagreed. He says there’s actually little therapeutic benefit to sweating and that saunas and sweat lodges are only beneficial in that they increase one’s heart rate.

But Jones, in between hearty laughs, scoffed at that idea. She said she was a sick woman when she first tried Bikram yoga—she had chronic fatigue, difficulty walking and completing a thought, and suffered from candida and the Epstein-Barr virus, she said. But within 30 days of practicing this particular style of yoga, most of her symptoms were gone. Six months later, she had absolutely no symptoms, she said, and she has enjoyed five years of great health.

Jones said practicing hot yoga in Sacramento has another benefit: The ultra-heated workouts help people acclimate to the pervasive heat of summers here.

“If you do it regularly, then that out there,” she said, gesturing to the outdoors, “it doesn’t affect you at all.”

Many athletes try the style of yoga because it is a challenge that they want to beat, Jones said.

And if you can endure the 90 sweat-dripping minutes inside the 110-degree room, then you can easily tackle and overcome all the other less inflammatory challenges life throws at you.