Enjoying a long soak in a hot bath could be as beneficial to health and burn just as many calories as a bout of low-intensity cardio, recent research has found.

Many of us have felt the benefits of a relaxing hot bath after a long day. However, these new findings would suggest that baths are better for us than we could ever have realised, particularly for those of us who have type 2 diabetes.


The Study

Dr Steve Faulkner of Loughborough University carried out the research by monitoring a group of volunteers. These volunteers were fitted with equipment that recorded the blood sugar levels and calorific burn in their bodies. They were required to soak in a hot bath (kept at 40°C) and eat a light meal two hours later. Participants were then instructed to undergo one hour of hard cycling while being monitored in the same way.

The study found that blood sugar levels were reduced 10% more in the hot bath than they were during the hour long cycle. As well as this, energy expenditure levels were 80% higher in the bathtub than they were while exercising, resulting in the volunteers burning an average of 126 calories per hour in the bath. Blood sugar and glucose levels are some of the biggest risks associated with type 2 diabetes, which means that regular hot baths could prove to be beneficial in preventing and managing the disease.

Dr Faulkner works as a Research Associate for both the National Institute for Health Research and the Leicester Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit. He described the results of this study as completely unexpected.


Physical Health Benefits

The results of this recent research may have come as a surprise but medical professionals have already confirmed the benefits of hot baths for other physical conditions. For example, studies have shown that submerging the body in hot water can be highly beneficial for circulation and blood pressure. The heat of the water creates a pressure in the body which causes the heart to beat faster and stronger. This has the same effect on the cardiovascular system as a small amount of light exercise.

Many patients with skin conditions such as xerosis cutis and psoriasis are prescribed hot baths by their dermatologists to relieve the discomfort of their skin. Hot baths have also been shown to help with muscle pain and with the symptoms of arthritis.


Emotional Health Benefits

It’s not only physical health which can be improved with the help of a long, hot bath. A 2002 study at the University of Wolverhampton found that a bath at the end of a long day had a notable improvement on the mood of participants. The research found that this was down to a combination of warmth, bodily comfort, isolation, liquid conditions being similar to those inside the womb, and the horizontal positioning of the body – which we associate with relaxation.

Hot baths have also been shown to prepare the body for sleep, as the body temperature increases and muscles relax. Sleep has been consistently shown to be one of the most important features of emotional wellbeing.

Finally, the peaceful atmosphere and comfortable conditions of a warm bath are great ways to reduce the stress of a hard day. Emotional anxiety takes its toll on the body and the mind, so you might be surprised at just how much better you feel after having a long, relaxing soak.