Life's Little Mysteries

Battle of the Sexes: Who Sweats More?

sweat, sweaty man, exercise
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Do men sweat more than women?

It turns out that you'll get more information about how much a person sweats from knowing the overall size and shape of his or her body, rather than his or her sex, a new small study from Australia finds. People who have larger bodies — whether because they are on the taller side, or on the heavier side — tend to sweat more than those with smaller bodies, the study found.

Sweating is one of the two major ways the body cools itself down, according to the study, published Thursday (Feb. 23) in the journal Experimental Physiology. Sweating cools the body when sweat evaporates from the skin.

The other method the body uses to cool off is increasing the amount of blood flow to the skin, according to the study. When warm blood flows near the surface of the skin, some of the heat can be lost to the air.  

Sex "has long been thought to influence sweating and skin blood flow during heat stress," lead study author Sean Notley, who worked on the study as a doctoral student at the University of Wollongong in Australia, said in a statement.

But in the study, the researchers found that the body's main cooling method depends on a person's overall size and shape. Specifically, smaller people, whether male and female, are more dependent on increased skin blood flow for cooling than they are on sweating. In other words, they sweat less.

Thirty-six men and 24 women participated in two experiments in the study. In one of the experiments, the men and women exercised on a stationary bike, at a light intensity, in an 82.4 degree Fahrenheit (28 degrees Celsius) room with 36 percent humidity. In the second experiment, they exercised at a moderate intensity under the same conditions. [The 7 Biggest Mysteries of the Human Body]

At this temperature and humidity level, the body is able to successfully cope with the extra body heat produced during exercise, and avoid further rises in body temperature by using the two cooling methods, the researchers said. 

During the experiments, the researchers calculated the participants' overall body size by using a ratio of their total body surface to their body weight. They also measured the men and women's body temperatures, skin blood flow and sweat levels.

They found that smaller people — both men and women — were more likely to depend on increased blood flow to the skin to cool down, while larger men and women were more likely to depend on sweating. Men and women with similar surface-area-to-weight ratios — in other words, similar shapes and sizes — used similar cooling methods, they found. In other words, body size and shape played a role, but sex did not.

The researchers noted that the findings help explain why sex is thought to play a role in how much a person sweats: larger individuals sweat more, and men are typically larger than women, they wrote.

Originally published on Live Science.

Sara G. Miller
Staff Writer
Sara is a staff writer for Live Science, covering health. She grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied biology at Hamilton College in upstate New York. When she's not writing, she can be found at the library, checking out a big stack of books.