Around this time of year when it's cold and dark outside, and you're exhausted from all of your holiday obligations, the fact that you have to get bundled up just to go to your favorite workout classes creates a difficult mental hurdle. Sweating in a warm room certainly sounds cozy and relaxing, but the whole workout part of the equation is less appealing.
If this sounds like you, you might have wondered, can sweating alone replace your workout? The short answer is, no, but to answer this question thoroughly, it's helpful to understand why we sweat in the first place. When your body temperature rises, either because you're hot or because you're exerting yourself, your body sweats to try to cool you down.
"Sweating is a little like your air-conditioner in the body," says Sophie Chiche, founder of Shape House, an "urban sweat lodge" in Los Angeles and New York City that offers sweat sessions utilizing far-infrared heated blankets. It takes a lot of energy to cool down your body, so your heart rate will increase as your sweat glands release sweat on your skin. The amount of sweat that you produce varies depending on your age, genetics, physical fitness level, and even caffeine intake — some people sweat a lot and some people barely sweat, both are totally normal.
People turn to saunas and sweat-inducing treatments for all kinds of reasons, like reducing chronic pain or relieving stress. Some promising studies show that using infrared saunas can be good for your heart, so there are certainly some health-related reasons why people aim to sweat. Chiche says a lot of customers go to Shape House to relax, improve their sleep, or help their skin. Many athletes and marathoners use the sweat sessions to complement their intense training sessions, she says. Or, some people who are recovering from injuries might use a sweat session as a way to maintain their cardiovascular fitness while they're not able to exercise, she says.
It makes sense why people equate sweating to working out, but simply sitting and sweating in a sauna or infrared wrap isn't the same thing as exercising. While exercise leads to perspiration, the point of working out is not just to get sweaty. Exercise strengthens your muscles, plus keeps your heart healthy. Working out also just feels good, and can help you relieve stress and manage your anxiety. And, for some people, workouts are a way to meet people.
That said, no shade if you like to sit and sweat without moving. Using a sauna or experiencing a sweat session can totally be part of your workout routine, but it probably shouldn't replace it. "Every approach we take in moving our body and taking care of ourselves has different effects," Chiche says. Regularly sweating could be one way that you recover from the rest of your workouts, or it could be your time to de-stress. (At Shape House, they let you watch Netflix as you sweat, which makes the experience extremely relaxing.)
At the end of the day, if you're looking for a way to cut corners and skip your workout, that's a pretty clear sign that you should find a workout that you like enough to want to go to — even if it means stepping out into the freezing cold.