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Every day, we are exposed to a steady stream of chemicals and heavy metals as we go through our lives — from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we eat and the clothing we wear. The body naturally eliminates these toxins via the lungs (breathing), kidneys (peeing), GI tract (pooping), and skin (sweating).¹ And, the liver’s role in all of this detoxing is to transform harmful substances into easy to eliminate forms. I’m going to focus on the benefit of sweat in this post. For centuries, cultures have incorporated sweat into their regular rituals — traditions and customs include Roman baths, Aboriginal sweat lodges, Scandinavian saunas, and Turkish baths.
Most Americans use exercise as their primary form of sweat, but folks dealing with autoimmune disease are often challenged by this. Many of the symptoms of autoimmune disease, such as fatigue and the not-uncommon experience of “crashing” after strenuous activity make the idea of exercise downright unappealing.
This can have some unfortunate side effects since we want all of our bodies’ detoxifying pathways to be strong at work. Even more so, individuals with autoimmune disease often have high levels of heavy metals (like mercury, lead and cadmium), so utilizing all forms of elimination is especially important.
And this is going to sound strange coming from a health coach with a medical background, but I’m just not that into exercise. There, I said it. Aggressive physical activity has never been my idea of a good time. I know the importance of working out as well as anyone but the idea of lacing up my running shoes or hitting a class at the gym tends to fall flat in my world. And I know I’m not alone! A more consistent exercise routine is definitely a goal I’m working toward — but I digress.
Despite not loving exercise, I know my body needs to sweat. Apart from its obvious function as a way of regulating our body temperature, sweating regularly can help fight skin infections, and may help prevent kidney stones.² Recent research even indicates that your ability to work up a sweat is an indicator of your overall health: the fitter you are, the more quickly and more profusely you sweat.³ So, if we know that it’s a good thing, how do we get over the hurdles that come with autoimmune disease (or lack of desire/motivation) to make sure we get the health benefits of sweating?
First things first, ditch the antiperspirant. I’m not saying you have to douse yourself in patchouli or go completely au naturel, but try to avoid putting products in your armpits that are designed to completely block your pores. Many antiperspirants contain heavy metals, introducing more toxins to the bloodstream through the skin — the exact opposite of what we want! My personal favorite non-toxic deodorant comes from Silver Botanicals, but there are abundant natural deodorant choices at your local health food store as well.
And while sweating during a workout is one thing, finding the underarms of your shirt soaked at work or on a date is decidedly more awkward. We could all stand to get less uncomfortable with the idea of a little sweat in those situations. But since that cultural shift isn’t likely to happen overnight, I personally try to dress in cooler clothing when I have a big meeting or a potentially stressful social function, and that seems to help. If I really feel like I need it, I will bust out the antiperspirant for those select occasions.
Attend a sweat. In the past few years, I have become passionate about attending Native American sweat lodges in my local community. The multi-hour experience of sitting in a hot lodge is both a spiritual and physical cleanse. I am completely soaked in sweat from head to toe and love feeling the copious amounts of sweat just pour down my body. Gross, huh? But, I love it! These deeply spiritual gatherings leave me feeling emotionally detoxed, in addition to the toxins I’ve eliminated through sweat.
Try a sauna. Infrared saunas, while they are a bit of an investment, come in models that can fit in any home. Check out this Far Infrared Portable Sauna. It is an easy way to get one right in your home. The difference between an infrared and a traditional sauna is that the infrared sauna heats your body from the inside out, which apparently accelerates the detoxification process. Plus, it just FEELS good. We have a local wellness center where I live that has an infrared sauna and I enjoy taking a load off in the heat, with relaxing music playing and a huge glass of filtered (wink) water. I set the temp at 130-140 degrees and bask in the heavenly heat for 30-45 minutes. It is a good idea to increase times and temperatures slowly.
We know we can’t completely protect ourselves from toxins–they are all around us. But if getting rid of them can be as easy as breaking a sweat, it means we should value a good workout, sit in a sauna, enjoy a hot summer day, or go deep in a spiritual sweat.
- Dr. Marianne Marchese, 8 Weeks to Women’s Wellness: The Detoxification Plan for Breast Cancer, Endometriosis, Infertility, and Other Women’s Health Conditions, (Petaluma, CA: Smart Publications, 2011).
- Is It Good To Sweat?
- Sex differences in the effects of physical training on sweat gland responses during a graded exercise.