It’s Not The Heat, It’s the Sweat! – Movement Labs

It’s Not The Heat, It’s the Sweat!

When KMN and I decided to make the move to Singapore, I was worried about a few things.  “Staying in touch with family and friends” was at the top of the list.  Not far behind that was “The Heat“.  Before the move, I’d already been to Singapore half a dozen times, for anywhere from 1-3 weeks.  And every time, I found the weather stifling.  Average daytime temps are around 29-31°C (84-88°F), and the relative humidity averages around 75-80%, making for a “feels like” temperature of somewhere between 33-41°C (92-106°F).  Things are a bit cooler in the evenings, but seasonal variation is slight.

I’d usually be OK at these temps for a short time – I grew up in the Northeast US, and we’d get this kind of heat several times throughout the summer for a couple of days.  And there’s a pretty standard coping strategy: head to the movie theater, or the air conditioned mall, or grab your swimsuits and hang by a pool for the duration.  BBQ, and eat salads, and hightail it for the ice cream.  Everyone gets a bit lethargic, and we’d sleep with fans blowing on our faces.  Things slow down for a few days in the heat.  Then, a huge thunderstorm comes through, the weather breaks, and normalcy returns.

But in Singapore, the weather never breaks.  So a few days into our visit, I’d get tired of steaming.  Then, the sun would manage to peek out through the haze, and I’d feel like I was both roasting and steaming, simultaneously.  Locals would tell me that it was the “cooler” season, or say, “Oh…doesn’t that breeze feel lovely?” I thought they were all delusional.

I had no idea how people would sit in an open-air hawker center, eating a big bowl of (sometimes spicy) hot noodle soup.  Who eats spicy, steaming soup when it’s 90°F outside?  [Answer: Singaporeans do!]   While staying with KMN’s parents, I’d sit at the dining room table, or help my mother-in-law in the kitchen, or do some chores around the house – but after a few hours of sweating, I’d be waiting for the moment when I could politely take a break upstairs in the bedroom, where I’d turn on the air conditioner and lie on the bed in a lazy, heat-induced stupor.   I’d spend our entire visit guzzling water, and still always feel thirsty.  KMN and I would go for a short run, and I would feel so uncomfortable, frustrated, and stifled that I would cry – while running.  [Note: I don’t endorse this tactic as a way to make your run easier, or cooler.]  I would come home and make up a big glass of ice water, just so I had an excuse to stand in front of the open freezer for a few seconds.

So although I pretended that a permanent relocation into tropical heat didn’t scare me – “I lived in upstate NY for 6+ years and learned how to deal with half a year of dark/gloomy/cold/snow, I can definitely do this. It’s just weather!” – I was worried.

Fast-forward seven months, and I can honestly say that the heat doesn’t bother me anymore.  Actually, it hasn’t bothered me for months.  Sure, it’s warm, and humid.  But I guess I’ve adapted.  I only drink 2-3 Nalgenes of water a day, except on really long workout days.  Certainly my running times have taken a hit in the heat, but I seldom get annoyed/frustrated/discouraged by the heat while working out – it is what it is.  I can sit at a hawker center and eat…whatever…without flinching.   Hot noodles are sometimes my preferred meal.  We use the air conditioner in our bedroom at night, and sometimes we’ll turn on the one in the study, especially if we’re dressed to go out  – but we seldom use the air conditioners in the rest of the apartment (energy wasteful and expensive).  I cook, clean, do laundry, compute, work, stretch – everything – with the windows open and fans on.

But there is one thing that I haven’t gotten over.  There is one thing that still bothers me: The sweat.  I sweat a lot.  Yeah, yeah, I know – everybody claims to sweat “a lot” (and have a “high pain tolerance”).  But seriously, I do sweat a lot (not sure about the pain tolerance).  I believe that this is genetic.  [Thanks, Mom.]  

As an example, let’s take a look at my day yesterday, with an accounting of the number of sweat-soaked clothes I left in my wake:

I got up and put on capris and a T-shirt (yay for working from home!).  I had breakfast, made some phone calls, and did some computer work.  Then, I cleaned the sinks and mirrors in our bathrooms and prepared the apartment for sweeping.  I slowly walked (two blocks) to the store and back, and by the time I got home, my T-shirt was soaked through (like, I could wring it out) and darkened with sweat.  This was both uncomfortable and unsightly, so I changed my shirt. [First Sweaty Outfit]

I walked across the street to grab a quick lunch, then came back and did a bit more computer work.  An hour later, I swept and mopped our apartment.  Mopping is the sweatiest chore I know.  I sweat like I’m running (effort + leaning over a steaming bucket), but there’s no movement/breeze to evaporate anything.  Just to be graphic for a moment, the sweat pours down my stomach and back and into my shorts.  It runs down my forehead into my eyes.  It drips off my nose and chin onto the (freshly mopped) floor.  I keep a small towel around my neck to sop up my sweaty arms/neck/head – and that ends up soaked, too.  I had plans to go to the gym later, but was too sweaty and stinky to subject my fellow gym-goers to me, so I hopped in the shower and put on a clean set of workout clothes. [Second Sweaty Outfit]

After a bit more work, I packed up my bag and walked to the MRT (subway) station, which takes about 12 minutes at a leisurely pace.  My undergarments were soaked by the time I arrived.  But, I hopped right into yoga class.  Afterward, I headed home and finished assembling dinner, then KMN and I cleaned up the kitchen and did a bit more work.  Finally, just before bed, I peeled off my wet (again) clothes for a second shower.  [Third Sweaty Outfit]

Laundry tally for the day:

3 sets of undergarments
3 shirts
2 pairs of shorts/capris

Of course, every day is different.  This day was a light workout day (yoga only) – usually I have another set of workout gear, too.  And on days when I don’t do much cleaning around the house, the sweat quotient is reduced.  If I worked in an air conditioned office setting, I probably wouldn’t generate quite as much laundry, either.  But at least this gives you an idea of how warm it can get around here.  Any why our laundry sorter often looks like this:

At least each piece of clothing is pretty small (few pants, no long-sleeved shirts, sweatshirts, etc.).

At least each piece of clothing is pretty small – mostly T-shirts, tanks, shorts, etc.

So while there are lots of lists, tips, and tricks circulating around the running blogosphere for “Staying Cool While Working Out In The Heat” (Miss Zippy, Defy Your Limitations, and Fashionable Miles are three recent ones that come to mind), here are my (largely irrelevant for most of you) “Tricks for Living (24/7, 365) in the Heat”:

1. Light, wicking fabrics aren’t just for workouts.  They’re for daily life.  At least the sweat will dry faster.

2. Avoid light colors if you’re self-conscious about sweat-stains.  Personally, I’m (mostly) OK with them on my shirt, but I find crotch sweat lines embarrassing in anything BUT a workout situation. I’ve already relegated several pairs of capris (pink, light blue, khaki) to “only wear if you’ll only be inside” duty.  Nowadays, I stick to purchasing black, dark blue, and dark brown bottoms.

3. Wear sandals whenever possible.  A little breeze on your feet goes a long way toward keeping you cool.

4. If you must wear shoes, always wear socks.  Shoes of mine that were totally comfortable and lovely when worn sockless in the US suddenly became blister-machines in the humidity of Singapore.  Out here, I can only wear my cute ballet flats if I also don those clever little half-socks.

5. When you get sweaty, CHANGE YOUR CLOTHES.  For  a few months, I resisted this idea: Why dirty an extra set of clothes?  Because you hate sitting around in soggy shorts, that’s why!  If I get back from errands, or lunch, or even just finish emptying the dishwasher – and my clothes are damp, I put on dry ones.  I go through multiple pairs of underwear every day, and I don’t care.  I often even carry a spare pair with me, just in case.  [Ladies: Staying dry also helps keep your lady-bits healthy, FYI.]

6. Don’t underestimate the power of a fan.  My husband loves the “Rotate” button on the fan.  Whenever he leaves the house, I stop the rotation and point that dang thing directly at me.  Ahhh….

7. Hydrate.  Water is great. I love water.  But water is only so interesting, and you may need to switch things up a bit so that you keep drinking.  So I drink something else for one or two glasses a day.  Sometimes that’s Nuun (like, after a particularly sweaty mopping session), but I also like juice cut with sparkling water (~1/3 juice + ~2/3 sparkling water = a party in your mouth!).  Unsweetened or lightly sweetened teas aren’t bad options, either.  Are you hydrated enough?  Check out my post on Good Hydration Habits.

The current Nuun selection.  And I just realized that the Lemon Tea is "Caffeine Enhanced". Bonus!

My current Nuun selection. And I just realized that the Lemon Tea is “Caffeine Enhanced”. Bonus!

8. Walk slowly.  Singaporeans have perfected this – in fact, they even walk slowly indoors.  But when you’re outside, if you have the time, don’t walk like a New Yorker.  Think about strolling instead of walking.  This is still terribly hard for me, but it does help. I promise.

9. Learn to treat a shower as a business deal, not a leisurely treat.  You’ll be in there a few times a day, and if you don’t learn how to speed things up, you’ll lose significant amounts of each day in the shower.  I can be in-and-out in about 3 minutes.

10. Ladies, if you have a sweaty face, forgo the makeup.  You’ll wipe off your moisturizer and foundation by dabbing the sweat off your face during your walk to the subway, and your eye makeup will quickly start oozing its way down your face, no matter how sweat/water-proof it is. And “moisture absorbing powder” was never intended to absorb all the sweat that your face will make in Singapore.  If you simply can’t go without your makeup, then wait until you get to work – and apply it once you’re in the air conditioning and have cooled off.

And there you have it!  A little glimpse into one aspect of life in Singapore, and a (relatively straightforward) set of Tricks for Living in the Heat.

Would you rather live in the tropics or in Alaska?

What’s your favorite tip to beat the heat in your every-day life?

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  1. stridingmom May 21, 2013 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Great tips to beat the heat…though I don’t know if I could ever keep up with my kids changing clothes 3 times a day. I hardly stay on top of Mt. Laundrius as it is, I couldn’t even imagine it being worse!!

    • Holly KN May 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm - Reply

      Kids don’t sweat as much, right? So until you have teenagers, maybe your safe. [Or…don’t move to Singapore! ;-)]

      Mt. Laundrius…Love it. I’m going to remember that one, with all credit to you! 🙂

  2. Allee @ Griselda Mood May 21, 2013 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    That is crazy. I was kind of getting sweaty just reading it. It’s a “balmy” 83 degrees here today In Rochester and people are already going nuts. If I had to choose the tropics or the bitter cold, I think I’d go the tropical route but I’d need a pool, beach and air conditioning on the regs.

    And I agree about sandals. I had flats on today at work and was sweating (no a/c in a poorly ventilated room with 24 sweaty teenagers, puke) and when I got home and put on flip flops– instantly cooler!

    Also, I want that laundry organizer!

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:06 am - Reply

      Well….we can get access to a pool, the beach here is no great shakes (but you don’t have a travel far to get glorious beaches!), and we do sleep in the air conditioning! And honestly, you get much more used to it than you initially imagine.

      I believe that the laundry organizer is this one from Bed, Bath & Beyond. We bought it before leaving the US. It’s not the sturdiest thing around, and each bag isn’t huge, but it gets the job done. [Although I’m a compulsive hyper-sorter, so I still do more sub-sorting. And we have a separate hamper for sheets & towels, and my husband’s work shirts. <--- See? Hyper-sorter!]

  3. Sarrilly May 22, 2013 at 12:16 am - Reply

    This post was fascinating to me! Amazing how we adapt in ways we don’t predict. I always said I’d rather be cold than hot, just because I’m fine with adding layers but can’t stand when I’m wearing minimal clothing and am still SO. HOT. After your experience in Richmond & Singapore, do you prefer the extreme heat (sweat) or extreme cold?

    Oh and the wording of #6 and #9 made me seriously giggle aloud. 🙂

    My favorite tip for beating the heat – growing up, I could never fall asleep in the summer if my feet were hot. So I would grab an ice pack from the freezer, stick it under my feet and I’d finally be able to fall asleep when my body cooled down! 🙂

    love ya!

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:08 am - Reply

      That’s a pretty good trick, but didn’t the condensation make your bed all wet? 😉

      It’s funny – I’ve been thinking about you lately, and how pregnant women in the US complain about being super-pregnant in the summer. But out here, everyone treats it like it’s perfectly normal. Not that they have much choice, but plenty of quite-pregnant women are still walking to bus stops, eating outside at the hawker centers, and just generally doing normal things in the super heat. It’s amazing what acclimatization and “no other choice!” can do.

  4. Chrissy May 22, 2013 at 1:17 am - Reply

    This is so helpful as I begin my first summer in Georgia! Thanks, Holly! I like #5. It’s so simple, but I always have trouble with that. But living in a sweaty latitude, I am just going to have to get over myself.

    I also like #3 & 4. As the two people who just posted confirm, the status of our feet make a big impact on the comfort felt by the rest of our body. This is one of the little lessons I tell my baby son as I dress him in his pjs and socks each night–as long as his feet are warm, the rest of him will be warm too (we also have the a/c running at night, which is why socks are necessary!).

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:14 am - Reply

      You are absolutely right. Get over yourself, and just change. It’s totally worth it – the extra laundry is a small price to pay for being comfortable. And again – most of the laundry pieces are pretty small, anyway! [I will admit, sometimes I’ll hang up a sweaty-but-not-smelly shirt to dry, then leave it on a hook in my bedroom to put on again the next time I’ll be doing a sweaty chore. This way, I feel like I’m “using” it more before I wash it!]

      One thing I don’t really know about, though – if your whole house is air conditioned, it might be harder to adapt, because you’re constantly switching between really cold and really hot. Out here, very few people air con their whole house – so most of my daily life is at a warmer temp, giving me more chance to adapt/adjust. And even though we air condition the bedroom, we don’t keep the temp that cold – just cool enough to sleep comfortably. On the other hand, KMN works all day in an air conditioned office, and he’s no less acclimatized than I am. So honestly, I don’t really know if/how much more air conditioning affect acclimatization.

      And yes, Rochester taught me the foot lesson, in the opposite direction. Keep those baby feet warm! 🙂

  5. Kim May 22, 2013 at 1:31 am - Reply

    A physiological explanation for why you’re not so hot (but still sweat)…
    Your blood literally thins itself out after about 2 months. You will also increase the sweat glands you have to cool yourself off. 🙂

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Hey – thanks for the info, Kim! This is pretty interesting – I actually didn’t know that the blood thins, but 2 months sounds about right for how long it took me to get comfortable. [I have a whole different post I’m writing about the running MYTH that it takes 2 weeks to adapt to a change in temperature – my experience is that it takes MUCH more than 2 weeks to adapt to a considerably warmer climate. This validates my experience!]

      But, I had plenty of sweat glands BEFORE…I could have done without the extras! 😉

  6. misszippy1 May 22, 2013 at 2:26 am - Reply

    Interesting post! I always say I want to live somewhere warm year-round, and I’m pretty sure I do, but there are definitely some downsides to it. I love your tip about strolling, not walking. I’d think for most Americans, this would be hardest. I am glad you can say you are acclimated–must make for an all-around much nicer experience!

    And thank you for the shout out!

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:24 am - Reply

      Any time you want to test out your theory, you’re welcome to come on out to Singapore and try it! 🙂

      Walking slowly is DEFINITELY hard to do, especially since I end up sweaty no matter HOW slowly I walk – but slower definitely = less sweat.

  7. misszippy1 May 22, 2013 at 2:27 am - Reply

    And just read Kim’s comment…so interesting!

  8. Kristen @ Happy Running Mama May 22, 2013 at 7:30 am - Reply

    I can’t imagine living somewhere so hot! But it is good to know you can adapt to it, although it sounds like even once you have “adapted”, you still sweat!!

    I am one of those rare runners who hardly breaks a sweat. Instead, my body just traps all the heat inside, I get massively overheated and my face turns bright red (and stays that way for hours after my run!) Sweating is so good for your body in terms of cooling it down…something that I am lacking and it is noticeable when I run in hot/humid weather.

    Sounds funny to say I am jealous of people who sweat a lot but, really, I am!! The only benefit I can find to not sweating a lot is that I don’t do as much laundry. 😉

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:25 am - Reply

      Sweat is actually part of the adaptation!! 🙂 But it sounds like you might have a hard time out here. Or, as Kim suggests (above), maybe you’d just develop some more sweat glands! =)

  9. Logan @ Mountains and Miles May 22, 2013 at 8:10 am - Reply

    I would rather live in the Arctic Circle. Humidity and heat is my worst enemy.

    This post just makes me feel sweaty and uncomfortable thinking about it.

    I’m just a normally sweaty person (I even sweat when I’m cold…like goosebumps and everything?), so I just feel like I would be swimming.

    I’m really glad you’ve found ways to adapt, though…perhaps I will be able to use some to survive this east coast summer looming. I can’t imagine doing it 365 though.

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Honestly, in some ways, it’s better than the East Coast – lots of the East Coast never really gets hot enough, for long enough, for your body to undergo some of the most advantageous physical adjustments. So every time it gets hot, you feel like dying…then it cools down for a few days, and the whole summer goes that way. When it’s hot, there’s never a break – but at least the body can legitimately adjust.

  10. Logan @ Mountains and Miles May 22, 2013 at 8:11 am - Reply

    Also, a lot of my family is Dutch and they drink hot tea when it’s really hot out. They claim it cools them down…not sure how that works? Maybe because your insides feel so much hotter that the outside doesn’t feel as hot? I never caught on to the trend.

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 9:56 am - Reply

      Lots of Chinese people drink warm/hot water (in fact, at a restaurant, I have to specify “ice water”), although I think this has more to do with a historical need to boil drinking water than anything else. But they definitely don’t take to icy cold beverages the way I do, in the heat! [Plus, warm water doesn’t really seem to quench my thirst.]

      They do say something about the spicy food helping you feel cooler, though. <--Also DEFINITELY don't get.

  11. Debbie @ Deb Runs... May 22, 2013 at 9:14 am - Reply

    I don’t like the heat, but I could probably get used to it… eventually. I don’t think I could ever get used to walking slowly, though!

  12. Great post!

    It gets just as hot in Toronto especially with all the humidity. Last year I used to always take a nap from 4-6pm because the heat would put me to sleep.

    I like the tip of wearing exercise clothing as for everyday. Around the house I’m generally just in my underwear or a very light summer dress.

    Also, I like to cut my hair short and always have it up. I just hate the feeling of a sweaty neck. Blah!

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm - Reply

      Hair is a great one that I missed. I had all of mine chopped off (mostly because I find hair to be incredibly annoying), but honestly…Caucasian hair simply doesn’t do well in Singapore. If you try to volumize….it goes limp. If you try to straighten…it goes frizzy. Lose, lose. But you’re totally right – I can’t imagine having all that hanging down my back when it’s so warm. So tie that hair up, ladies!!!

  13. Jean May 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm - Reply

    Aha, do I even need to answer that question?

    This is a great post! Honestly, after reading this I can pretty confidently say that Singapore is one of the LAST places on my “to visit” list. I just…. I can’t even imagine. Summer in New York had me hating my life (and two years following four years in Vermont wasn’t enough to adapt), so that truly sounds horrendous. I couldn’t do ANYTHING. And I’m not a stroller, no matter how hot it is. I commuted to work in workout clothes and changed once I got there because I was guaranteed to be drenched in sweat by the time I made it. But I’m glad that you’ve managed to adjust! And jealous that you were able to.

    I have zero tips on “beating the heat,” except “remain very still and sit in front of an air conditioner.” Cold weather tips? Pile on the layers! I guess I’ll leave the fun weather posts to you.

    • Holly KN May 22, 2013 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      No. No, you don’t. When I was trying to think of what was opposite of “the tropics”, I immediately thought of you. That’s why I chose Alaska!!

      Like I’ve said – up-and-down temps are MUCH harder to adjust to then a steady, constant heat. Although I even surprised myself a few weeks ago when I realized that the HEAT, itself, had totally stopped bothering me. Instead, I was just getting pissed of at my sweat (tickling and trickling down my back/front/legs, leaving damp marks when I was trying to look professional, causing all sorts of running chafe-age, etc.).

      Nah, there’s something to be said for staying warm – and motivated – in cold and dark temps. I think you could write a post on how you get yourself out the door to run on days when you have, like 2 hours of daylight.

  14. Kristen L May 23, 2013 at 5:32 am - Reply

    I would have been so nervous to move to a place like that too! When I was younger I always got so grumpy in the heat + humidity. I’m grateful that at least in CA it isn’t usually very humid when it’s hot out. I’d rather it be a little cooler.

    Thanks for the shoutout!

    • Holly KN May 23, 2013 at 8:20 am - Reply

      For the brief time I lived in Cali, I looooved how the days would be so sunny-hot (easily into the 90s), but by the evening, it was cool and grab-a-light-jacket weather!

  15. […] One of the few recent iPhone photos in which I’m NOT wearing workout gear. A rare site indeed. [Technical gear helps me stay cool and dry!] […]

  16. Luke June 24, 2013 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Hey there. Great post. Regarding sweat being genetic; search on hyperhydrosis. You’ll find all you need to know, and more.

    I’m an Australian from Canberra living in the Solomon Islands. Canberra gets to minus 4 – 6 celsius over night in winter and up to 43 degrees Celsius in summer. It’s very hot, very cold but the heat is dry.

    Weather in the Solomons is 32 degrees Celsius every day and humidity averages at 94%. In short it’s a physically beautiful place but the sweat is driving me insane.

    I don’t mind hot temperatures at all, but cannot stand humidity and sweat. My wife absolutely loves the climate and never breaks a sweat.

    I do all of the things you mentioned, but it’s 12.30 pm here and I’m my fourth shirt!!!!

    Trying my best here, but find it so hard to want to do anything that involves movement.

    You may have guessed, I’d choose to live in the Arctic circle….

    • Holly KN June 25, 2013 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      Hahaha! Hi Luke, thanks for stopping by!

      Believe me, I hear ya. I find that I don’t mind the sweat *as* much when I’m INTENDING to go out and get sweaty…it’s when I actually want to stay presentable and mostly dry that it makes me insane. Not sure how long you’ve been there…apparently, sweating is reduced as you acclimatize. I’m not so sure about that. I’ve been living here for 9 months now, and haven’t noticed any less sweat. 🙂 But kudos to you for tolerating such icky conditions. Trade-off for the beauty of the place, I guess. 🙂

      And now, I’m off to read about hyperhydrosis (new concept for me, embarrassingly!) Thanks for the suggestion.

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