Many people find that relaxing in a hot bath at the end of a long and stressful day is a good way to unwind, but researchers from Loughborough University in England has discovered that it may also be as beneficial to an individual’s physical health as some forms of exercise.
Writing in the journal Temperature, research associate Steve Faulkner and his colleagues found that spending one hour in 104 degree Fahrenheit (40 degree Celsius) water burned approximately 130 calories – nearly the same amount that is burned during a 30-minute walk (~140 calories).
As part of their study, Faulkner’s team recruited 14 men classified as either lean or overweight, and had them either spend 60 minutes in hot water or complete one hour of cycling, with the goal of raising each participant’s core body temperature by one degree, according to People.
While the cyclists burned far more calories than the bathers, both groups experienced benefits, the researchers reported. Members of both groups had their blood sugar measured for 24 hours after each of their respective activities, and while each had similar responses, the peak glucose after eating was around 10 percent lower after bathing compared to cycling.
Soaking in a tub still no replacement for hitting the gym, say experts
Furthermore, as Faulkner explained in an article written for The Conversation, those who took a hot bath also demonstrated anti-inflammatory responses similar to those experienced following a workout, suggesting that taking a hot bath (or, as it is scientifically referred to, “passive heating”) could help reduce chronic inflammation often present in conditions such as diabetes.
The concept of using passive heating to improve human health is relatively new, but as People explained, the results thus far have been promising. In 2015, a group of researchers from Finland published a study suggesting that frequent saunas could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in men, and the next year, a US study found that regular hot baths could lower blood pressure.
So how does it work? As Dr. Jennifer Wider explained to Women’s Health, it takes advantage of a group of proteins called “heat shock proteins” which the body produces in response to stressful conditions, including bathing. Heat shock proteins, she explained, may help insulin function and improve blood sugar control, making a person feel less hungry and less likely to overeat.
Passive heating is “a pretty new area of research, but several positive results have come out over the last few years. It may become a lasting trend,” she said, adding that since new study involved only men and was so small, additional research would be needed to verify the results – but “even if future studies support the health benefits of passive heating,” Dr. Wider said, “nothing replaces the multitude of benefits a person will get with regular exercise.”
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