It never hurts to sweat… a little


A few years ago, I read a quote, attributed to President Theodore Roosevelt. That may or may not be true. Supposedly, he once said, “To maintain good health, sweat a little every day.”

Whether Teddy Roosevelt said that or not is less important than the meaning. Whether you are working or playing, to maintain a healthy lifestyle you should work hard, play hard, run hard, or do something every day that forces you to break a sweat.

Whatever activity brings out the sweat, will also increase the heart rate and respiratory rate. Muscles will grow stronger. With vigorous activity, it is likely that good health will result.

Regardless of where the quote originated, it is probably true.

I said something to Debbie once about sweating and she pointed out, quite emphatically, that women don’t sweat. They glisten. OK. I’ll buy that. I have found that buying things like that keeps me out of trouble.

The most I have ever sweated in my life was about 20 years ago during a medical mission trip into the Amazon rainforest.

Most of us found it impossible to stay dry. The air was so humid, it was so filled with heat and moisture, that our clothes instantly got soaked from sweat. We had to roll our clothes on and off whenever we changed.

Working in the Amazon was an amazing, exciting experience. I treasure the time we spent in the jungle, but the heat was beyond oppressive. There was no getting away from it.

It was almost impossible to sleep. We stayed on an open boat. Our hammocks were hung from the rafters of the second deck.

Despite the whole deck being open, at night, without a breeze, it was stifling hot. I cheated by bringing a tiny battery-powered fan with me. I clamped it on the cord that supported my mosquito net and directed the air onto my chest.

Every night, by about 2 o’clock in the morning, the battery would die. By then I was asleep and some of the jungle heat had disappeared into the night. It was a wonderful, but hot, hot trip.

My other major hot and sweaty experiences, other than those that occurred while I was young, working in cornfields in the middle of July, or in a loud, hot, steamy factory in downtown Dayton, happened on purpose as part of an experience that utilized the heat and sweat as part of an overall cleansing experience.

We were near Fort Thompson, South Dakota, at the Crow Creek Reservation. The Lakota Sioux of the American plains had a long tradition of using a sweat lodge as part of a ritual. Known as “Inipi,” or simply “a sweat”, it starts with building a large wood fire and filling the flames with stones. They continue to add wood and build the fire until the stones glow red.

Nearby, a small hut covered with layer upon layer of quilted material and animal skins stands ready with an open firepit in the center. Rather than building a fire inside the hut, the hot stones are piled in the middle of the low structure.

The Sioux leader then opened the flap of the hut and directed us into a circle around the firepit. As the flap was closed, it became dark. Our apprehension grew.

One of the young people had cystic fibrosis. His father was understandably concerned. Just before the ceremony started the leader handed a towel to his father and said, “You have nothing to worry about. He will be fine.”

We have no idea how he knew of our concerns.

Once we were settled, the drumming and chanting began. Slowly, water was poured over the glowing stones. As the steam rose from the firepit, the temperature and humidity within the hut instantly skyrocketed. As the drumming and chanting droned on and on, the sweat poured from each of us.

The purpose of the sweat ceremony is purification, rebirth, rejuvenation and awakening. It was unforgettable.

Several years later, in October 2013, a delegation from the Cincinnati area traveled to Ukraine to establish sister-city relationships with towns in the Kharkiv region of northeastern Ukraine. Wilmington now has sister cities in Solonytsivka, Chuguev and Merefa.

The area is rich with agriculture and industry, which is one reason that Ukraine has been fought over for generations and is still the target of Russian aggression.

Our host in Merefa, was formerly a member of the Soviet Olympic skiing team. He wanted us to experience a traditional, Soviet sauna as provided to their Olympic athletes. We stripped down to a towel (not a pretty sight) and laid on our stomachs.

As water was poured on the heated stones, the temperature and humidity rose, and our host started swatting us with a bundle of oak branches. The goal is to increase circulation and bring blood to the surface of the skin. Our skin certainly got hot and red. This was followed by jumping into a pool of cold water.

Whew… that was brisk.

Sweat lodge ceremonies and saunas are intended to reinvigorate mind and body. According to Teddy Roosevelt, sweating will improve general health. Regardless, it appears that sweating is a good thing.

As always embracing new experiences can be a joy even if it involves a whole lot of sweating.

In this season of Christmas, focus on those experiences that bring joy. Share your joy with others.


Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist

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