The benefits of taking a hot bath which are the same as exercising
An increase in body temperature, sweating and heart rate – these physical responses are the most common signs of intense aerobic training. But these same physiological reactions are also surprisingly similar to what you experience when immersing yourself in a hot bath.
This is what the authors of a December 2020 review published in theJournal of Applied Physiologyconcluded. They also found that regular hot baths could provide many of the same health benefits as moderate-intensity exercise.
In fact, a small study from the review found that two months of cycling (three times per week for 30 minutes) versus the same number of time-matched hot baths produced comparable improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness and vascular health. in sedentary young adult males.
But does that really mean you can skip your spin class for awhile in the tub while still enjoying the same benefits? Here, John Higgins, MD, an athletic cardiologist at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in Houston, assesses the benefits of a hot bath – and their limitations – compared to exercise.
Compared to moderate intensity exercise, regular hot baths have many of the same health benefits.
1. They improve blood circulation and blood pressure
It is well documented that exercise has protective effects on vascular health. But research also indicates similar benefits of hot baths.
For example, a study from June 2016 inThe Journal of Physiologyfound that eight weeks of regular hot baths helped reduce arterial stiffness and blood pressure in sedentary young adults.
“Hot baths increase blood flow not only to the skin but also to other vital organs,” says Dr. Higgins. This increased blood flow promotes the production of more nitric oxide, which keeps blood vessel walls smooth and prevents inflammation and plaque buildup, he explains.
The increased dilation of blood vessels also leads to lower blood pressure, adds Dr. Higgins.
2. They increase your heart rate
Much like a brisk jog, getting into a hot tub will increase your heart rate.
Here’s why: A steam bath causes blood vessels to dilate and lowers your blood pressure. Therefore, “your heart rate quickens to compensate,” says Dr. Higgins.
Indeed, the same criticism in theJournal of Applied Physiologyfound that passive heating (like taking a hot bath) can increase heart rate by 20 to 40 beats per minute. Nevertheless, it should be noted that this effect is significantly milder than the increase that occurs with moderate intensity exercise.
3. They can help reduce inflammation
Exercise can help curb chronic low-grade inflammation – which is the root cause of many illnesses – and there is some evidence that regular hot baths may have a similar benefit.
Hot baths can decrease inflammatory markers, which can reduce your risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality by up to 25 percent, says Dr. Higgins. But the long-term effects of hot baths on inflammation are uncertain and more research is needed.
4. They promote better blood sugar
Research has shown that just three weeks of a daily hot bath can improve blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes, says Dr. Higgins.
For example, a study from July 2015 inCurrent opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic carehas found that heat therapy, such as using a sauna or hot tub, shows promise in treating type 2 diabetes.
Extreme heat can cause your blood vessels to dilate, allowing your body to absorb insulin faster and, therefore, lower blood sugar levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. .
5. They can help improve mood
Anyone who’s ever experienced a runner’s intoxication or the post-workout endorphins feel-good surge can confirm – exercise can improve your mood.
Apparently a hot bath too. Hot baths can lower stress hormones and help balance serotonin levels, which play a role in regulating mood, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
In addition, some research shows that bathing in hot water (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for half an hour can help reduce symptoms of depression, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
While hot baths can mimic some of the health benefits of exercise, there are some things they just can’t do. Here are just a few:
1. They don’t build muscle, strength or bone density
Exercise puts force on a muscle, leading to muscle damage and subsequent repair and growth (as well as increased bone density), says Dr. Higgins.
But you can’t build lean muscles and strong bones or gain strength by relaxing in a hot tub. “To build and strengthen muscles, you have to use them,” says Dr. Higgins.
2. They do not improve endurance
Although a hot bath can temporarily increase your heart rate, it cannot help you maintain physical activity for an extended period of time. In other words, it won’t support your stamina.
To improve your endurance, you need to increase the distance, time or difficulty of an exercise, and that doesn’t happen with a hot bath, says Dr. Higgins.
3. They don’t support weight loss
While exercise can be part of a healthy weight loss (or weight management) strategy, a hot bath in the tub will not promote fat loss or lower your BMI.
Example: the sameJournal of Applied PhysiologyThe review found that eight weeks of moderate-intensity cycling reduced body weight, unlike hot baths. This may be because aerobic exercise burns more than 10 times more calories than passive heating.
When to take a hot bath for the best benefits
The best time to experience the benefits of a hot bath is right after a workout, says Dr. Higgins. Thirty minutes in the tub can soothe sore muscles and promote recovery and muscle growth.
That’s because hot baths improve blood circulation, which helps repair and rebuild muscle fibers and reduce inflammation, says Dr. Higgins.
For the best value for your bath, add Epsom salts, which can help relax muscles and relieve pain, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Three hundred grams should do the trick.
For the optimal hot bath benefits, try taking a hot bath four times a week and soaking for 30 to 60 minutes, says Dr. Higgins.
While there are many benefits to taking a hot bath, they can dry out your skin as well. To avoid this, do not soak in boiling water every day. And try these tips:
- Use a moisturizing soap.
- Limit your lather to the face, armpits and groin.
- Moisturize as soon as possible to lock in moisture.
So, can hot baths replace exercise?
“The best way to think of a hot bath is (pardon the pun) as awatered downVersion of exercise, ”says Dr. Higgins. With a hot bath, you get some of the vascular benefits of exercise, but not the major cardiorespiratory or cardiometabolic gains from your body’s movement.
So if you only have 30 minutes in your schedule, going for a jog or taking an aerobics class will always be better than 30 minutes lying in a hot tub, says Dr. Higgins.
In other words, hot baths should not be used as a substitute for exercise, but rather as a supplement to your regular training regimen.