Most people are aware of how soothing and pleasurable a warm bath can be. But studies show that baths may provide numerous other health benefits, from boosting the immune system to improving heart-related conditions. Frequency, temperature, and a variety of other factors can determine how beneficial a bath is.
Bathing in a tub has deep roots in Japanese culture and several studies have explored the connections between bathing frequency and overall good health. Research shows that about 70% of people in Japan take a bath every day. Japanese participants in a 2010 study who bathed seven or more times each week said that they not only had good sleep quality but also felt they had good overall health. A 2018 Japanese study found that older people who bathed more frequently had lower incidences of functional disability.
Most people prefer a warm bath over a cold one and studies show that warmer baths may be more beneficial. A 19-year study with 30,000 participants indicated a 26% lower risk of cardiovascular disease among people who preferred a warm bath, and a 35% lower risk for those who enjoyed an especially hot bath. Most medical professionals recommend that bathwaters range between 100 and 109 F for ages 13 and above. Water that is too hot can sap the skin of moisture and risks burns.
Once a go-to treatment for athletes and overworked muscles, trainers and sports medicine professionals have used ice baths for decades. However, studies show that this practice may actually undermine workouts. Although some researchers believe that immersion in cold water can be beneficial, most agree that additional studies are needed. A cold bath before a long-distance race or sporting event lowers an athlete’s body temperature and can increase performance. After the event, it may decrease inflammation and relieve burning muscles.
Research shows that regular bathing stimulates metabolism. The bathwater warms the blood in the blood vessels closest to the surface, which leads to an increase in deep body temperature. The heart rate rises by as much as 50%, and the carbon dioxide in the blood decreases, spurring the elimination of metabolic waste material. This process increases both venous flow and cardiac output which improves the metabolism.
Immersing the body in hot water enhances its ability to fight off infections and viruses. A 2013 study found that after two weeks of hot spring therapy, participants with chronic heart failure experienced improved clinical symptoms. Later studies showed improved circulatory, cardiovascular, and immune functions. A 2018 Finnish study focusing on sauna bathing found that participants reported improvement in conditions such as arthritis, headaches, and flu.
Researchers in a 2018 study asked 10 male participants to take 10 baths within two weeks. They compared blood samples taken before and after this period. The final blood samples showed reductions in blood sugar concentration levels and blood pressures, which are common indicators of chronic disease. Another study found that an hour-long hot bath burned as many calories as a half-hour walk.
Up to 70 million people in the U.S. have sleep or wakefulness disorders. Without treatment, they can lead to many health conditions including heart disease, strokes, diabetes, and some types of cancer. A study published in 2019 noted that passive body heating through a warm bath or shower before bedtime is a simple way to improve sleep.
The body recognizes exercise as physical stress. In response, it releases anti-inflammatory substances to combat potential inflammation. Researchers found that one hot water immersion session induced a similar acute inflammatory response in study participants: a group of 10 sedentary, overweight men. They surmised that heat immersion can be an effective tool to improve glucose metabolism and chronic inflammation, which lead to type 2 diabetes.
Not only does a warm bath make a person feel better physically, but it also decreases stress hormones and improves depression. Bathing in warm water balances serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood. Some researchers say it is as simple as taking a 30-minute bath in 104 F water to decrease stress levels and enhance emotional health.
Over the last 10 years, studies have shown that a hot bath is good for the body and the mind. To further enhance the benefits, people can safely add certain ingredients. A 15-minute bath in water with Epsom salts can stabilize mood and relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It also soothes tired, achy muscles. Chamomile is another effective enhancer for a comforting bath. It contains the bioflavonoid compound apigenin, which produces a calming effect.
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