Learn how to avoid potentially harmful toxins in your workout, in the form of foods and drinks, clothing, and exercise equipment.
How many toxins are we exposed to during a workout? You might be surprised. Fitness rituals are a possible source of hidden health-compromising toxins. Here’s how to avoid breathing, wearing, applying, and sipping toxins—before, during, and after workouts.
Sweat for health
Sweating is recognized as a method of health promotion that dates back to ancient times. It has been well documented that skin is an important organ of elimination.
New research demonstrates that sweating might even be an excellent way to excrete certain toxic elements. Researchers found higher concentrations of heavy metals in participants’ sweat than in their urine. Other toxins identified in participants’ sweat were not found in their blood serum, which tells us that some toxins are stored in body tissues and might not be eliminated through other methods.
Sweat is produced in glands just under the skin in response to heat and/or stress. A bout in a sauna or physical exercise will kick the body’s thermoregulatory system into gear to produce sweat. Maximal sweating generally occurs within about 15 minutes, and fluid loss may be as high as two litres per hour in a person accustomed to sweating.
Even though exercise means you’re sweating out toxins, it doesn’t mean you’re immune from taking in new ones, so when prepping for a sweat session, be alert for these pre-workout sources of toxins.
Check pre-workout fuel for chemical sweeteners, which have shown in at least one animal study to damage DNA. Artificial sweeteners may also be found in some energy drinks designed to boost performance. The artificial sweeteners aspartame, acesulfame-K, and saccharin have all been shown to have adverse health effects, including carcinogenic effects in animal studies. Opt for drinks that have no sweeteners added or that have been sweetened naturally.
Sweat- and odour-prevention products often contain triclosan and triclocarban. These antimicrobial chemicals have potential health concerns such as disrupting hormones and development, as well as promoting antibiotic resistance.
Additionally, aluminum-based antiperspirants are formulated to help block our glands, so we don’t sweat, but due to the detoxifying nature of sweat, this may be something we want to rethink. Check labels on deodorants closely and choose all-natural ingredients. There are plenty of options at health food stores.
Technical and toxic gear
Think twice about donning a waterproof running jacket or sweat-absorbing sports bra. Technical clothing that assists performance can be processed with toxic chemicals which may remain in the fibres. Furthermore, form-fitting workout clothing is worn close to the body, allowing close contact with these potential chemicals.
Be aware of the chemicals used to make athletic apparel, and choose natural options such as organic cotton or hemp whenever possible.
Breathable, water repellent
Athletic clothing manufacturers may use perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which repels oil and water and makes membranes breathable. PFOA is a synthetic chemical that does not occur naturally, is not metabolized in the body, and doesn’t break down in the environment. PFOA has been linked to developmental problems and liver toxicity, as well as cancer in animal studies. The good news is that many companies are working to phase out PFOA, or have already done so. Nevertheless, existing clothing may still contain trace amounts.
Permanent press, stain repellent
Durability finishes may “out-gas” formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can be added to fabrics to increase their resistance to wrinkles. It can be a health issue for some people, leading to allergic contact dermatitis—a form of eczema that can cause skin to itch, burn, flake, and become very dry or blistered.
Whenever possible, choose eco-friendly clothing that has been dyed naturally. Synthetic textile dyes have been linked to contact dermatitis.
Phthalates are found in plasticizers, which make products strong yet flexible. Possible phthalate-emitting culprits in fitness centres are yoga mats and blocks, exercise balls, medicine balls, foam rollers, jump ropes, and plastic-covered dumbbells.
Phthalates have been shown to leach out of items containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and into air, dust, water, and food. Exposure has been associated with asthma, allergies, reproductive issues, and cancer.
Choose fitness equipment labelled PVC- and phthalate-free. Look for yoga mats that are made of jute or hemp fibres, natural rubber, or organic cotton. Use yoga bolsters stuffed with natural materials such as organic buckwheat fill.
Travel smoothie cups, water bottles, and post-workout meal storage containers can all be a source of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in the production of hard, clear plastics. It is found in food and drink packaging, which explains why the primary source of BPA is diet.
BPA is an endocrine disruptor and found in 95 percent of Canadians ages three to 79. BPA is implicated as having harmful effects on human heart health, being linked to asthma, hormone disruption, anxiety, and behavioural problems in children through prenatal and postnatal exposure. Many food and beverage storage products now declare “BPA-free” on the label. When in doubt, opt for stainless steel or glass.
Personal care products used after a workout can also be a source of hidden toxins. Check your natural health retailer for safer options.
Freshen and clean the body, clothing, and gear with cleansers that do not contain sulphates, which are chemical agents found in laundry soap and shampoo. Sodium laureth sulphate is used in thousands of cosmetic products. It can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a possible carcinogen.
Cremes and moisturizers
Parabens are common in personal care products to act as preservatives. They too have been shown to build up in human tissue and interfere with normal hormone functioning. Look for “paraben-free” on the label of products at natural health retailers.
There is potential for a lot of toxin exposure in just one workout. By paying attention to the ingredients in foods and choosing fitness tools made from environmentally preferred materials, you can make a positive impact on your health and the environment.