Settling into a hot bath or sauna is a great way to unwind at the end of the day. That warmth around your body provides a comforting feeling and an indulgence you might not have thought anything of. But beyond personal hygiene and relaxation, hot baths or saunas can benefit you more than you think. Growing research has generated excitement on how the two can improve your health and prevent disease.
Hot baths involve water temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius. And as you probably know, taking a bath can make you and your body feel better. Hot baths can reduce depression as well as arthritic pain and increase motion. And these benefits can continue even after the baths had stopped. In Japan, where hot baths consist of immersion up to the neck, there was a lower chance for heart attack and stroke. And if you’re having trouble sleeping, having a hot bath within a few hours of your bedtime can improve the quality of your sleep.
In contrast to baths, saunas are dry, but have many similar benefits. The typical Scandinavian sauna, where they’re most popular, is <20% humidity and may top 90 degrees Celsius. In men who had saunas on most days, the chances for heart disease and early death was lower compared to those with less than one session per week. In this same study, the chances for getting dementia were also lower with more sauna sessions. Sauna use may also help reduce pain in people with rheumatic diseases and chronic fatigue.
Just Like Exercise?
The ways in which baths and saunas may improve your health have similarities to what exercise does to the body. Both increase heart rate and blood flow. Baths and saunas do this by making arteries more flexible, which in turn, lowers blood pressure. Additional research suggests heat immersion can result in lower glucose and insulin levels.
It shouldn’t be ruled out that undertaking a hot bath or sauna is a form of relaxation. For most people, it’s a time away from distractions and to focus on oneself. It’s also considered an enjoyable activity. Dedicating time for enjoyment and self-care can in itself have benefit regardless of the activity undertaken.
For people who can’t exercise, a hot bath or sauna may be an alternative. However, regular exercise provides a much greater array of benefits beyond what heat immersion provides. Therefore, baths and saunas shouldn’t be considered a substitute for exercise.
Precautions for Taking a Hot Bath or Sauna
There is also some with risk involved. Drowning in baths, though rare, does happen. This tends to be more likely in the elderly and those with mobility limitations who may have difficulties lifting themselves out of the tub. In addition, alcohol is sometimes involved in drownings and should be avoided (also to be avoided to prevent possible dehydration).
An often-cited concern has been sudden cardiac death, but the risk is very small. However, if you have heart disease or uncontrolled blood pressure, you should check with your doctor first. Similarly if you’re pregnant you may wish to take extra precautions.
Dehydration is a more common risk as the hot temperatures lead to significant sweating, even in a bath. Therefore, drink plenty of water before and after. Also use caution when standing up to prevent sudden dizziness, as blood may have pooled in your feet and legs. Use a handrail and even move your feet/legs around before standing up to get the blood pumping back to your heart. Lastly, if you have a skin problem, this may be exacerbated. And people with asthma should be cautious of sauna use as the hot dry air can be problematic.
So go ahead, indulge yourself with a hot bath or sauna knowing you’re improving your health. Bubble bath and rubber ducky are optional.
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