Everyone knows there’s nothing like sinking into a hot bath at the end of a long day to make you say “aahhhh.” But apart from reducing your stress levels, baths might have another side effect. Research now suggests that taking a dip might yield results similar to exercise. Excuse us while we go fill up the tub.
According to the research, exposing yourself to extreme temperatures can help your body achieve a high level of fitness. Unfortunately, most of the research around this deals with extremely cold water—some data suggests being in the cold can aid weight loss and help counteract the effects of type 2 diabetes. But science says there might be another (warmer) way!
“Many cultures swear by the benefits of a hot bath,” writes Steve Faulkner, lead author of the study, in The Conversation. “But only recently has science began to understand how passive heating (as opposed to getting hot and sweaty from exercise) improves health.”
The study, which was quite small, studied 14 men who were assigned to either an hour of cycling at a moderate pace or an hour-long soak in 104-degree water. Obviously the cyclists burned more calories overall, but here’s where it gets interesting. The men who took baths still burned about 140 calories on average, or about the calories burned in a half-hour walk.
Benefits Of Soaking In The Tub
Another interesting point: Researchers measured the blood sugar of the participants over the next 24 hours and found that both groups had an increased ability to control their blood sugar—in fact, the bathers’ blood sugar levels were even lower than those of the cyclists.
The men who took the hot bath also experienced an anti-inflammatory response, similar to the one produced after exercise. This is crucial, because many people with chronic disease also experience chronic joint inflammation.
This finding could pave the way for using this method of “passive heating” as a tactic for helping people with type 2 diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
“We also showed changes to the inflammatory response similar to that following exercise,” Faulkner wrote. “The anti-inflammatory response to exercise is important as it helps to protect us against infection and illness, but chronic inflammation is associated with a reduced ability to fight off diseases. This suggests that repeated passive heating may contribute to reducing chronic inflammation, which is often present with long-term diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.”
And this isn’t the first promising result of research into hot baths. Another study found that frequent trips to the sauna could reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke in men.
Other research found a connection between regular hot baths and lower blood pressure.
“They found that passive heating raised levels of nitric oxide, a molecule that dilates blood vessels and reduces blood pressure,” according to Faulkner. “This has implications for treating high blood pressure and improving peripheral circulation in people with type 2 diabetes. As type 2 diabetes is associated with reductions in nitric oxide availability, passive heating may help re-establish a healthier nitric oxide level and reduce blood pressure.”
Still another study found that taking a hot bath can stimulate the immune system. This is helpful for people who exercise regularly, as heavy exercise can temporarily decrease immune function and make us more susceptible to infections.
Alternative To Exercise, Future Study
The study authors hope their findings can be expanded into a larger study. They also note that taking a hot bath is not a replacement for diet and exercise, but can be a valuable tool for those looking to get in shape. So go have a soak.
“It seems that activities … may help to improve blood sugar control and offer an alternative to exercise. These activities—such as soaking in a hot tub or taking a sauna—may have health benefits for people who are unable to exercise regularly. Hopefully our future investigations, coupled with those of other groups worldwide, will help to establish the true potential of passive heating as a therapeutic tool,” according to Faulkner.
Cheat Day, Anyone?
Want some more good news? Turns out, eating pizza and other indulgences can actually help you lose weight. But this trick only works if you stick to your healthy eating habits for the majority of the week. Researchers found that giving yourself a cheat day (like Sundays) makes you more motivated to keep up your diet plan in the long run.
“The key is to plan ahead and designate a specific day for your rule-breaking,” study author Rita Coelho do Vale, Ph.D told Men’s Health. “That’s because giving in to a spur-of-the-moment donut can make you feel like you blew your diet—and might as well abandon it completely.”