- A new study from Japan reports that hot baths can reduce a person’s risk for heart disease and stroke.
- One expert said the health benefits from warm baths appear to be similar to the benefits from aerobic exercise.
- Others note that baths are free, easy to do, and accessible to almost everyone.
Is the current state of the world making your chest a little tight or your heart race a little more quickly?
Protection for your blood-pumping lifeline may be right in your own home in the form of a long, hot bath.
Research published in the journal Heart has revealed that in Japan, where bathing is a key part of the culture, those who take hot baths often show a significant decrease in risk for cardiovascular disease or stroke.
The researchers tracked the bathing habits and cardiovascular disease risk of more than 30,000 Japanese adults for 20 years.
“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 be in part due to a reduced risk of developing hypertension,” the researchers stated.
According to the study, daily hot baths are associated with a 28 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 26 percent lower risk of stroke.
That number jumped to 35 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease when hotter water was used. Stroke risk didn’t lower with hotter water.
“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 [heart disease] may in part be due to a reduced risk of developing hypertension,” wrote the research team, which was led by Dr. Hiroyasu Iso, a professor of social and environmental medicine at Osaka University in Japan.
Why hot baths work
Researchers believe the heat of the water works to lower blood pressure while upping heart rate and improving something called the hemodynamic function, which, in layman’s terms, is how effectively the heart pumps blood to all the organs in the body.
Those are the same results that many people get from aerobic activity, according to Dr. S. Russell Vester, FACS, FACC, FAHA, the chief of the division of cardiovascular surgery at The Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“The real question is: Is it (bringing) the same result as some aerobic activity?” Vester told Healthline.
“Let’s say you do, as you should, 30 minutes of low-level activity (such as walking) 5 days a week. If bathing 5 days a week brings your heart rate up and your blood pressure down, that’s a similar result,” he said.
Should baths be prescribed?
Vester says he’s never known of a cardiologist who prescribes baths as prevention, not yet anyway.
He also points out that this information isn’t completely new: Finnish people and saunas have been looked at for this as well.
Further, he says, in Japan, bathing in deep, hot tubs is part of their culture (many Japanese baths allow bathers to stand shoulder deep in the hot water), so “they would want this to be the case.”
But Vester does see the potential benefit, as well as risk.
Risk first: Vester strongly suggests that anyone with any kind of cardiovascular issues talk to their doctor before soaking in a hot bath.
“People with existing (cardiovascular conditions) should not do this,” he said. “Always talk to your doctor first.”
On the plus side? Bathing is, in its purest form, good for our mental health.
“There are other side benefits,” Vester said. “It’s calming, isolating in a good way, relaxing. It’s a Zen moment. You close your eyes and just say ‘Ahhhhh.’ That’s always good for us in many ways.”
Free stress relief
Elizabeth Nelson of Wisconsin has been “prescribing” hot baths to her family members in these weeks more than ever.
“I’ve long suggested hot baths to them as a way to reduce stress,” she told Healthline. “And obviously, reducing stress helps with heart health. I would imagine right now, we all could use a little extra stress reduction.”
There’s another benefit to it as well, she says.
“It’s basically free. If you have a tub in your home and hot water, you’re all set,” she said. “And it does not require an appointment or a copay. That’s good for the heart, too — as well as my wallet right now.”
Marna Brickman, LCSW-C, a licensed certified social worker in Annapolis, Maryland, says one of the calming techniques she suggests to her clients is to take a hot bath.
She tells Healthline that warm baths are physically relaxing for your body and soothing for the mind.
She notes baths are easy and accessible, as anyone can take one, especially during this time when many people are under shelter-in-place orders.
“If the secret to better health is a nice, warm bath then, golly gee, I’m in,” Vester said.
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