Tai Chi is a great form of exercise which can be done by anybody of any age. It has its roots in martial arts, though it’s rare to find anybody using Tai Chi for combat in today’s day and age. If you’ve ever seen Tai Chi in practice, you will know that it’s slow and measured and that leads many people to wonder whether or not you’re going to perspire when you practice Tai Chi.
So, does Tai Chi make you sweat?
Yes, like any form of physical exercise, Tai Chi can make you sweat despite arguments to the contrary. However, there are no guarantees that it will make you sweat and some adherents swear that Tai Chi sweat isn’t like “normal” sweat at all.
So, let’s take a close look at Tai Chi and sweat.
Why Do People Sweat Anyway?
Before we can look at sweat in the context of Tai Chi – it’s quite important to understand why people sweat, in the first place, and what can trigger sweating.
There are, surprisingly, two forms of sweat:
- Cooling sweat. This is the kind of sweat that most people experience on a regular basis. The purpose of this sweat is to reduce your body temperature. The sweat is supposed to evaporate off your skin and cool the skin as it does so.
- Apocrine sweat. Your body also has something called “apocrine” glands which produce a type of sweat. This sweat, in some animals, is there to signal sexual attraction to members of the opposite sex but in human beings, this kind of sweat plays a small part in cooling but also takes place when we get emotional (be it nervous, excited, angry, etc.).
Yes, this means that we can become much sweatier when we’re trying to pluck up the courage to ask someone on a date than when we’re working out.
Oddly, even cooling sweat is not an absolute reaction to our environment but it is released when an area of your brain, in the hypothalamus, sets triggers to tell the body to sweat. This is why people who live in hot countries are much less likely to sweat on a hot sunny day than someone who grew up in Greenland, for example.
So Why Do Some People Think Tai Chi Doesn’t Make You Sweat?
Tai Chi is, generally speaking, quite a leisurely and relaxed activity. If you were to come across a group of older Chinese ladies on a street corner in Shenzhen running through their morning Tai Chi practice, you could be forgiven for thinking that there was very little exertion involved in Tai Chi at all.
This impression is often reinforced by articles like this one in Saga Magazine called, “Tai Chi: Boost Health Without Breaking A Sweat.” The author is not a qualified medical professional sadly, and this is one of the typical light “health pieces” without references that represents the opinion of the author.
Because it has Saga’s name attached to it – it lends the concept that Tai Chi doesn’t make you sweat credibility, without offering any evidence that this is true. In fact, the article acknowledges that sweating is possible, in passing, in contradiction to the published headline.
So, Does Tai Chi Make You Sweat?
There is no absolute answer to this question because what makes each individual sweat varies from person to person and therefore, there are likely to be people who do Tai Chi who don’t sweat while they do it.
However, it is more likely that most people who do Tai Chi will sweat at some point or another due to their Tai Chi, even if this is not true of every session. And here’s why:
Tai Chi Is Often Conducted Outdoors
One of the lovely things about practicing Tai Chi is how in harmony it feels with nature and the world around you and many people go outside to do their Tai Chi practice. If you walk through any city in China early in the mornings, you’ll find the streets are buzzing with people doing group Tai Chi.
Wander around any park in Asia and you’ll find the same. In fact, if you visit Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, you’ll find ships’ decks covered with people taking their first Tai Chi lessons as dawn breaks.
The thing about the outdoors is that it doesn’t come with a thermostat. If it’s hotter than your body can handle, you’re going to sweat – even if you’re not moving around. If you are moving around, even gently as you will be in Tai Chi, then you’re going to sweat more.
It seems inconceivable that there will ever be a world in which every single person doing Tai Chi never goes outside in the warm, so Tai Chi outside is going to make some people sweat.
Tai Chi Is A Form Of Exercise
While it is true that Tai Chi is not especially rigorous as exercise goes and it’s unlikely to provoke high heart rates and gallons of sweat in most people in comfortable temperatures, it’s still a form of exercise and people react to exercise in different ways.
In fact, there is evidence that the amount we sweat in exercise is affected by two things:
- Our base level of fitness. No surprises here, if you haven’t got up from your desk to walk around for years, if you decide to run a marathon, you’re going to sweat like crazy before you collapse after a few hundred yards. However, what’s also true is that people who exercise regularly at endurance sports – also sweat more than the average person. That’s because when you run marathons or cycle long distances, the sweat cools you down and makes it easier to stay on target. Therefore, the people least likely to sweat at Tai Chi are those of a medium level of fitness.
- Our base size. There’s no getting around this. Human beings who are carrying more fat, have higher inner temperatures (this is because fat acts as an insulator) and are more prone to sweating than thinner people. In fact, size is a much powerful indicator of how much you are likely to sweat in any given situation than your gender is.
So, if you’re of average weight and of average fitness you may go to Tai Chi classes (in a comfortable climate) without ever breaking a sweat but other people might be sweating from the start.
Tai Chi May Have An Emotional Impact
Tai Chi’s underpinning philosophy is one of emotional control but many people who practice Tai Chi report on how it gives them personal energy and great joy. If you google for “Tai Chi” and joy, you’ll quickly find the testimonies of plenty of people explaining this impact on their lives.
Well, joy is a strong emotion. And like any other strong emotion – it can make you sweat. If you’ve ever watched a choir singing in a church, you’ll have seen this too. Singing might be a little energetic but it’s not so energetic that it ought to leave people sweating but many singers have a very healthy “glow” about them. That’s sweat and it comes from the heightened emotion of the singer rather than because of their physical workout.
This isn’t conjecture either, the researchers Groot et al, published a paper in Psychological Science called “A Sniff of Happiness”. In that paper they demonstrated that people in a state of joy do sweat a lot and oddly, this sweating may be contagious! Yes, happy sweating isn’t something you keep to yourself – other people around you do it too.
Therefore, we think it’s very likely that Tai Chi would induce emotional sweating in some participants and that they would pass that on to other participants who might not have the same emotional state!
We can’t say categorically that Tai Chi will make you sweat. We can say with a relative degree of certainty that it will make some people sweat. For some, this might be every time that they do Tai Chi, for others it might only be occasional, for others it might only be when they stand next to someone else doing Tai Chi who is really happy about it!
Tai Chi remains, in any instance, a fantastic form of exercise and if you do find it makes you sweat – it’s better to buy a deodorant than to quit your practice.