Which sounds more fun: Going for a jog or relaxing into a cozy hot tub? As much as we might enjoy getting out and being active, there’s no denying a nice long soak has a much stronger appeal. According to new research, spending time in warm water can be just as beneficial for our health as a jog, anyway.
It might sound like a reach, but Charles Jame Steward, a PhD student at Coventry University in the UK, recently published some promising findings. On top of extensively pouring over previous research with a team of fellow scientists, Steward observed volunteers who spent equal amounts of time either soaking in a hot tub or cycling moderately. Although the cycling was better for burning calories, they both resulted in similarly elevated core temperature, heart rate, and blood flow.
“When your temperature begins to rise, you must find a way to lose excess heat in order to regulate body temperature,” Steward explains. “One of the principal mechanisms that facilitates heat dissipation from the body is an increase in blood flow to your skin, which is in part supported by the vasodilation (widening) of your arteries and capillaries.”
This results in elevated blood flow, which promotes the production of molecules in our blood that aid in cell growth and the repair and protection of our blood vessels. Steward therefore concludes, “Regular sauna or hot tub bathing can indeed bring about some similar health benefits to that of low to moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging, and cycling.”
Along with his own observations, Steward references several previous studies, including one that found regularly taking hot baths or sitting in a sauna is linked to a lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Another study suggested that the increased blood flow improved blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
But despite all these potential perks, Stewart warns that you shouldn’t rush out and cancel your gym membership or assume that you can replace all physical activity with a hot bath. For one thing, the fact that it doesn’t burn as many calories means it won’t help if you’re trying to lose any weight. It also doesn’t require you to move around, so your muscles and bones aren’t getting any strengthening benefits either.
Plus, it’s better for your heart to use it in addition to working out, not instead. “Protection against fatal cardiovascular disease is further increased in those who regularly exercise and frequently bathe in contrast to either independently,” he writes. “Meaning that doing both exercise and heating is likely the best option.”
Steward also points out that our regular bathtubs might not create the same ideal results as a hot tub or sauna, which can maintain their heat levels rather than cool down quickly. So really, it’s more incentive to keep that gym membership if your facility happens to have a hot tub and sauna available (or you can invest in a handy inflatable hot tub!).
Either way, it all boils down to the fact that a nice soak is way more than just some indulgent “me time” — it’s keeping you healthy, too!