COVENTRY, United Kingdom — After a long day of work, is the thought of exercising as unappealing as sitting in rush-hour traffic? For millions of people, the busy pace of modern life leaves them with neither the time nor the desire to work out every day. Luckily, a recent study finds there’s a much more relaxing way to stay healthy. Researchers from Coventry University say jumping in a hot bath or relaxing in a sauna provides many of the benefits people get from vigorous exercise.
PhD Candidate and study co-author Charles Steward explains that regularly taking a hot bath mimics the effects of walking, jogging, or cycling. The heat of a good soak increases blood flow and raises body temperature and heart rate. Researchers believe these shared benefits can improve cardiovascular health, stimulate cell repair, and even reduce depressive feelings.
The study also finds “passive heating” can lower blood pressure, inflammation, and help diabetes patients control their blood sugar better. One thing sitting in a bathtub can’t do is help people lose weight. Researchers say these exercising alternatives will not trigger fat loss or strengthen muscles and bones. Despite those drawbacks, Steward says baths and saunas are a great way to improve the health of those who can’t or won’t enter a gym.
“Exercise adherence is very poor, with many people unwilling to exercise due to lack of time and motivation. And for those who are older or have chronic diseases, exercise can also cause pain, which for obvious reasons limits exercise further,” Steward writes in a paper in The Conversation.
“While exercise remains the best way to improve your health, research shows that bathing in a sauna or hot tub are alternative options for those who are either unwilling or unable to take part in enough exercise.”
1 in 4 people don’t get enough exercise
According to the World Health Organization, adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise every week. Unfortunately, those are numbers many people are simply not able to reach. Study authors find 25 percent of adults globally fail to reach WHO’s standards.
In a previous study, examining the link between migraines and exercise, researchers found that percentage is likely much higher in certain areas. Their survey of over 4,000 Americans discovered nearly 75 percent did not reach 150 minutes of exercise each week.
The Coventry team’s analysis examined volunteers who spent equal amounts of time in a hot tub and riding a bicycle. Results reveal exercising is more effective at increasing the body’s ability to expend energy. However, passive heating provided similar increases in each participant’s heart rate and core temperature. Researchers also used ultrasound scans to reveal that sitting in a hot tub increased blood flow through a person’s arteries.
Steward notes the healthy benefits saunas and hot baths provide is not going to come as a shock to many cultures worldwide. Specifically, these therapies are quite common in countries like Finland and Japan. In fact, there are around two million saunas in Finland — a nation with a population of just 5.3 million!
“All of these cultures – and the many other historic and current cultures for which bathing is popular – extol the health benefits of these practices,” Steward writes. “And we now know they have been right all along.”
The findings appear in the Journal of Applied Physiology.