Who doesn’t love taking a long, hot bath? That relaxing bath may do more than just melt the stress away — it might actually have similar health benefits to exercise, according to a study published in the journal Temperature.
Similar to the effects of 60 minutes of moderate exercise, the researchers found that sitting in hot water for an hour improved the body’s blood sugar responses — an important sign of metabolic fitness — and had an anti-inflammatory impact.
A group of researchers from the National Center for Sport & Exercise Medicine in the United Kingdom studied 14 men who were either overweight or lean. Specifically, the researchers examined their metabolic health.
The volunteers either did an hour-long session of cycling or spent the hour in a 104-degree Fahrenheit bath. Both groups of men were able to better control their blood sugar levels in the day following these activities. However, those who took a bath were slightly better off; their blood sugar levels after eating were about 10 percent lower than the blood sugar levels of those who exercised.
“It seems that activities that increase heat shock proteins may help to improve blood sugar control and offer an alternative to exercise,”
wrote lead study author Steve Faulkner from Loughborough University. “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.”
These results mean that a rising body temperature, otherwise known as “passive heating,” could help lower blood sugar levels. For diabetics and people with other metabolic-related issues, this may be welcomed news. Passive heating could impact heat shock proteins in the body that help regulate blood sugar. People with type 2 diabetes typically have lower levels of heat shock proteins, but passive heating could increase those levels.
But There Was More…
Another benefit for hot baths, the researchers discovered, was that it promoted an anti-inflammatory response in the body, similar to what happens after people exercise. Again, this could help people with chronic illnesses, like those with type 2 diabetes, who struggle with inflammation.
As promising as these findings may be, it is important to point out that the study was quite limited — they only analyzed 14 men and no women. Further research is needed in order for scientists to come to any more official conclusions.
Experts also stress that hot baths, albeit tempting, are not a replacement for regular exercise.
Hot Bath Benefits for Muscles
Taking a hot bath can provide benefits for your muscles as well. When you apply heat, for example, to an area that is inflamed, that helps increase blood circulation and help tight, sore muscles relax. The increase in circulation reduces the accumulation of lactic acid, which can contribute to soreness. Soaking in a hot bath (with water between 92-100 degrees Fahrenheit) is one way to help your muscles. Other ways include applying a heating pad or hot compress, or using a medicated cream or patch.
A hot bath benefits your muscles in several ways. It can reduce spasms, loosen stiff muscles and tissues, and help to relieve discomfort associated with sprains. It’s very important, however, that you avoid applying heat if you have an open wound, or you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular issues. If you have a condition known as peripheral neuropathy, a hot bath could cause issues. The reason is that this condition is associated with extreme numbness. People with peripheral neuropathy might not realize how hot the water is, and could be at risk of suffering a serious injury as a result. Always have a talk with your doctor first before soaking in a hot bath to help reduce muscle discomfort.
Article updated: April 5, 2018
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