The best cure for being stuck at home and taking a bath on your investments right now might be actually taking a bath.
A new study published in the journal Heart this week finds that soaking in the tub every day is linked with lowering your risk of death from stroke and heart disease.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 61,000 middle-aged adults (ages 40 to 59) in Japan with no history of cancer or cardiovascular disease, which included detailed questionnaires about lifestyle habits such as how often they took baths. And they found that the men and women who enjoyed a daily hot soak were associated with a 28% lower overall risk of heart disease, and a 26% lower overall risk of stroke, compared with those who took a bath once or twice a week, or who took no baths at all.
When it came to temperature, warm baths and hot baths lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 26% and 35%, respectively, suggesting that hotter water is better for heart health. (But there were no significant associations between water temperature and stroke risk.)
It should be noted that the typical Japanese bathing method involves immersing up to your shoulders in water that’s 40 to 42 degrees Celsius (or 104 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit), with some subjects going as high as 43 degrees Celsius (almost 110 degrees Fahrenheit), which the researchers noted may be critical factors in the health benefits.
For one, the pressure and resistance of the water when you’re immersed up to your neck can improve the strength and capacity of your lungs by forcing you to take longer, deeper breaths. And that’s combined with the heat of the water, which makes your heart beat faster, which in turn circulates more oxygen around your body (even as the steam clears your sinuses and your chest.)
What’s more, some studies have found that heat exposure (as in a tub or sauna) increases core body temperature, heart rate and blood flow in a similar vein as exercise. And, of course, hot baths relieve muscle aches and soreness after working all day or working out, and these soothing soaks are also a known stress reliever. A hot bath before bed has also been shown to help people sleep better. And who couldn’t use 20 or 30 minutes to unplug and relax in a hot bath these days, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening lives and livelihoods?
Coronavirus update: 438,749 cases, 19,675 deaths, New York rate of infection is accelerating
This study can’t prove causation, however, since the scientists didn’t speak with any of the subjects, and bathing habits were only recorded at the start of the study; it’s possible that routines changed as the years progressed.
But previous research has also linked frequent tub bathing with improving diabetes and lowering blood pressure, which in turn would reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease, they say.
“We found that frequent tub bathing was significantly associated with a lower risk of hypertension, suggesting that a beneficial effect of tub bathing on risk of [cardiovascular disease] may in part be due to a reduced risk of developing hypertension,” the researchers wrote in the new report.
Hot baths can also carry risks, however. The subjects in this study were middle-aged and healthy. But an editorial that accompanied the study notes that hot baths have also been associated with sudden death in Japan, especially in the elderly, due to accidental drowning or heart attack triggered by heatstroke. And pregnant women are generally steered away from hot tubs and saunas, since having an elevated body temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more can be dangerous for developing babies.
The bottom line: there could be some benefit from unwinding with a warm soak at the end of the day. Just clear it with your doctor if you’re pregnant or have underlying health issues, such as a heart condition.
Some tips for soaking safely: stick your foot into the water, and don’t get into the tub if it’s uncomfortably hot. Allow the water to cool a bit, or add in some cooler water. The Cleveland Clinic recommends that you limit your soak to 10 minutes if the water is pretty hot. And drink cool water while you’re in there, to stay hydrated.