This is not a drill. A steamy bath could have a couple of health benefits similar to those produced by exercise, according to a recent study.
Research published in the journal Temperature found that an hour-long soak in hot water produced similar anti-inflammatory and blood sugar responses as 60 minutes of moderate physical activity.
Sound too good to be true? While the research on these effects is still preliminary, there is a plausible explanation for this.
“It seems that activities that increase heat shock proteins may help to improve blood sugar control and offer an alternative to exercise,” lead study author Steve Faulkner from Loughborough University wrote. “These activities ― such as soaking in a hot tub or taking a sauna ― may have health benefits for people who are unable to exercise regularly.”
A team from the U.K.’s National Centre for Sport & Exercise Medicine examined 14 lean and overweight men and analyzed their metabolic health (a function that helps in regulating blood sugar). The participants were either assigned to an hour-long session of cycling or an hour-long session in a 104-degree bath.
The scientists discovered that both groups were better able to control their blood sugar levels in the 24 hours following the activities ― and the bathers perhaps were even better off: Their peak blood sugar levels after eating following their soak were approximately 10 percent lower than the peak blood sugar levels of those who exercised.
Researchers say this implies that “passive heating” (a means of rising your body temperature) could assist in lowering blood sugar levels, which could be promising for those with diabetes or other metabolic-related health issues.
Passive heating can affect proteins in the body called heat shock proteins, which help regulate blood sugar. People with type 2 diabetes tend to have lower levels of heat shock proteins, Business Insider reported. Passive heating can raise these levels.
Spending time in hot water also helped with inflammation, according to the study’s results. Bathers experienced an anti-inflammatory response in the body similar to what happens after people exercise, which could be good news for those who have chronic illnesses (like type 2 diabetes) that are associated with inflammation.
Other studies have shown that it can lower blood pressure, which Faulkner said his experiment also found.
It’s critical to point out a few limitations of the study. For starters, the experiment only monitored men, so it’s difficult to say if the same effect would happen in women. It also only included 14 volunteers, which is an extremely small sample size. More research needs to be conducted before scientists can come to any official conclusion. And, of course, you should still continue to exercise regularly.
That being said, the study does offer some more promising insight into the healing effects of hot water. The science of hot baths is seemingly only delivering good news. And if anyone needs some more volunteers to test it out, we’re available.