Sweat is a natural by-product of exercise. In adults, the process of sweating is the body’s primary way of regulating temperature, so it naturally follows that exercises that warm the body result in sweat.
But do men sweat more than women?
How is sweat produced?
Sweating happens all the time, the hotter we are the more we sweat and heat can come from the environment, physical activity and emotional shifts.
It’s produced in glands the eccrine glands in the hands, feet and armpits plus the apocrine in the armpits and genital areas. Some people suffer from hyperhidrosis whereby the glands are overactive and the production of sweat greater – but there is not a male female divide for this so in terms of physiology there’s no reason why one sex should sweat more than another.
Does fitness affect sweat production?
The body is an amazing machine that gets more efficient with training. This doesn’t only apply to how fast you can run, how far you can run, or how heavy you can lift but also to how efficiently you cool down when you exercise. Therefore, a fitter person will sweat more quickly during exercise – but again there is no difference between men and women in this regard.
What about Body temperature differences?
As far back as the 19th century German physician Carl Reinhold August Wunderland analysed the armpit temperatures of 25,000 patients. He found that the average adult had a healthy temperature of 98.6 degrees but that women tended to have slightly higher body temperatures than men.
Further during the menstrual cycle a woman’s basal temperature alters; right after ovulation it elevates by about 4 degrees Fahrenheit and remains at that level until a few days before their period.
On top of this anecdotal and empirical studies conclude that women ‘feel’ the cold more than men and prefer a warmer environment.
Pulling all the above together does that mean men sweat more because they’re more comfortable cooler or women sweat more because they tend to be warmer and require more regulation?
The latest research
The journal Experimental Physiology has now looked at the issue in more depth and despite the many physical differences between the sexes it has found that the body size is the one variable with a consistent effect on sweat production.
In short larger people sweat more than other ones.
This is doubtless due to surface area whereby larger people have smaller surface areas relative to their mass and so are less efficient as dispensing excess heat. It’s the same principle we see in nature whereby the ears of the African elephant are larger than the Indian elephant to enable them to cool in the African heat.
One of the scientists involved, Sean Notley said: ‘Gender has long been thought to influence sweating and skin blood flow during heat stress. We found that these heat loss responses are, in fact, gender independent during exercise in conditions where the body can successfully regulate its temperature.’
But given that men are typically bigger than women, surely it follows that overall men produce more heat?