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Don’t Sweat It—No Wait—Do!

Jun. 18, 2015|741 views
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From “sweatin’ to the oldies” to “don’t sweat the small stuff, to “no pain, no gain,” to “never let them see you sweat,”—plenty of familiar phrases seem to focus on the relative merits of sweating—or not sweating. Most of these sentiments are the product of marketing. Antiperspirant manufacturers would have you believe that sweat is one of the chief scourges of mankind, for instance. But athletic wear companies preach the opposite message. It’s enough to confuse a person. So which is it? Sweat is good, bad, neutral?

When it comes to your health, sweat is definitely good.

In fact, according to the results of newly published research, working out hard enough to sweat could be a matter of life or death. That is to say, if you workout hard enough to sweat on a routine basis, you may be up to 13% less likely to die than men or women who engage in only mild to moderate-intensity physical activity, such as “gentle swimming” or performing household chores. 

“The benefits of vigorous activity applied to men and women of all ages, and were independent of the total amount of time spent being active," said lead author Dr Klaus Gebel, from James Cook University's Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention. “…Whether or not you are obese, and whether or not you have heart disease or diabetes, if you can manage some vigorous activity it could offer significant benefits for longevity."

That’s especially intriguing, because it suggests that even brief bouts of intense exercise may provide significant health benefits, beyond any benefits associated with weight control. The research followed more than 200,000 Australian male and female adults for more than six years. Investigators speculate that public health officials may need to tweak their messaging when it comes to the health benefits of physical activity.

Current guidelines issued by the World Health Organization, which have been adopted in numerous countries around the world essentially equate mild-to-moderate-intensity exercise and shorter bouts of vigorous exercise. But the equivalency may be misleading. In essence, the new research seems to suggest that slow walking, or pushing around a vacuum cleaner, may not be enough to reap the optimal benefits physical exertion can provide.

In other words, it may be better to use sweat as your guidepost. If the activity you’re engaged in causes you to break a sweat, you’re on the right track. "The [existing] guidelines leave individuals to choose their level of exercise intensity, or a combination of levels, with two minutes of moderate exercise considered the equivalent of one minute of vigorous activity," said co-author Dr Melody Ding from the University of Sydney. "It might not be the simple two-for-one swap that is the basis of the current guidelines…Our research indicates that encouraging vigorous activities may help to avoid preventable deaths at an earlier age."

So there you have it. Forget “never let them see you sweat.” If you’re interested in living longer, let your motto be: “no sweat—no gain.” "Our research indicates that even small amounts of vigorous activity could help reduce your risk of early death," Dr Gebel said.

Klaus Gebel, PhD,; Ding Ding, PhD; Tien Chey, Mappstats; Emmanuel Stamatakis, PhD,; Wendy J. Brown, PhD; Adrian E. Bauman, PhD. Effect of Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity on All-Cause Mortality in Middle-aged and Older Australians. JAMA Internal Medicine, April 2015 DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.0541


Tags:  exercise, obesity, prevention, chronic illness