By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
On a July morning in Lake Seminole Park in Florida, I was teaching a racewalking lesson when we passed a hefty gentleman huffing and puffing as he was doing his version of exercise walking while wearing sweat pants and a sweatshirt. July! Florida! Where is his sense?
I held my tongue, hard as it was. I have been accused by my husband of giving exercise instruction, even when none is requested. I talked to myself Ė "Bonnie, heís not your student. Itís not your business what he wears. Not everyone wants your exercise advice." I took a breath and racewalked past him with my student.
I tried to put him out of my mind. At the end of our lesson, my student and I were finishing stretching at a picnic table when the gentleman came around the bend and headed toward his car, beat red in the face. While my student walked toward her car, I walked toward him.
"Sir, I noticed your sweat outfit. Itís 85 degrees this morning. May I ask why youíre wearing sweats?" "Sure," he offered, "Iím hot as heck, but itís a good way to burn more fat. I have a lot extra fat to get rid of," as he grabbed hold of his belly to prove his point. "I need to lose this weight quickly." At the very least, I justified that by keeping him standing and talking to me, I was preventing him from jumping right into his car and sitting (heart attack?) without a proper cool-down, and with that red face.
The myth that sweating can help you burn more fat has been perpetuated for years. Many of us have seen them in gyms, all bundled up working out and sweating profusely. Yet, they keep their sweatshirts on, mistakenly believing that it will help them lose weight. Yes, they may lose some superficial water weight, but thatís all it will be Ė water. As soon as they drink, their weight will come right back.
In fact, wearing sweatsuits or other heavy clothes in hot weather is a dangerous detriment to our walking or exercise program. When you wear hot clothes, you cause your body to perceive the weather as being even hotter and steamier, so your heart begins to work harder to pump more oxygenated blood to the surface of the skin in order to produce more sweat.
Sweat is our bodyís mechanism for keeping the skin surface temperature regulated. That gentlemanís body didnít realize that he was wearing those hot clothes on purpose. His body thinks, "Oh my, it must be REALLY hot in Florida today. I need to work harder to get more blood to the surface of the skin." The heart works plenty hard exercising in hot and humid weather Ė no need to stress it even more.
Hereís a big surprise for those who think that exercising in heavy clothes will burn extra fat. Youíll actually burn LESS fat. Since your body has only a certain amount of blood to send through the body, it must make a decision. Should it send that oxygenated blood to the working muscles in order to burn fat or should it send that blood to the skinís surface to help you sweat and keep you alive? Guess what your body chooses?
If youíre looking to lose weight and stay fit this summer, certainly keep up your racewalking program. By carrying water with you in a fanny pack, you should be able to keep up your workouts all through the summer. Alter your racewalking by going out early or since it stays light late, you can go out after dinner. If you have access to a treadmill, try your workout indoors when itís hotter than normal. But please no sweat clothes this summer!
Stick with lightweight, coolmax shirts and microfiber (not cotton) shorts. Use a visor to shade your face, and always wear UV protection sunglasses. Wear the least amount of clothes that you feel comfortable with. That way, youíll burn the most fat and calories that your body can. But, please - - - no naked racewalkers in Lake Seminole Park, nor anywhere else I do lessons.