A fascinating set of findings recently published in the journal Temperature make the case that a hot bath could offer similar benefits to moderate exercise. Researchers found that an hour-long soak in hot water had a comparable effect on blood sugar and inflammation levels to an hour of moderate exercise. Furthermore, they found that a hot bath can even burn off calories!
How a Hot Bath Helps Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
The findings come from a study carried out by scientists at the U.K.’s National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine. The scientists enrolled 14 men with varying body compositions and randomly assigned participants to either spend an hour cycling or spend an hour in a 104-degree bath. They found that both activities produced important health benefits, but that in some cases, the benefits associated with bathing were greater than those associated with cycling.
While both cycling and bathing led to a more balanced blood sugar for at least 24 hours post-activity, bathing actually had a more impressive effect! Peak blood sugar levels after eating for the bathing group were around 10 percent lower than those of the exercise group.
“It seems that activities that increase heat shock proteins may help to improve blood sugar control and offer an alternative to exercise,” commented Steve Faulkner, the study’s lead author. That means activities that have this effect, like taking a hot bath, for instance, could be an especially crucial option for individuals who cannot engage in physical exercise.
The Importance of Identifying Alternatives to Exercise
The importance of physical activity as a means of improving health and wellbeing remains unquestioned. Yet studies reveal that, for a number of interconnected reasons, many of the people who would benefit the most from exercise do not incorporate regular bursts of physical activity into their daily lives. In fact, 60% of adults living in the United States are not active at recommended levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Developing strategies for increasing physical activity levels is vital, but it’s also important to identify alternatives means of achieving crucial health benefits. What researchers call “passive heating”—which is what happens when you soak in a hot bath—affects proteins in the body called heat shock proteins. Individuals with type 2 diabetes typically have lower levels of these proteins, which appear to help regulate blood sugar levels. Passive heating can raise your heat shock protein levels.
Even More Benefits of Hot Baths!
Faulkner noted that the study also found soaking in a bath can lower blood pressure, a finding established in previous studies. What’s more, it can even burn calories! “Cycling resulted in more calories being burned compared with a hot bath,” said Faulkner, “but bathing resulted in about as many calories being burned as a half-hour walk.”
Soaking in a bath also alleviates inflammation. Faulkner and the team measure the anti-inflammatory responses of both the bathing group and the cycling group, and found that an hour of either activity produced similar results.
It is important to recognize that because the study involved such a small sample size, more research is needed to see whether the results will hold true for larger, more diverse groups of people. Hot baths are strongly associated with a number of physical and mental health benefits, so if you enjoy them, you should certainly continue to do so—but at least for now, it might be best not to substitute them for exercise.