Exercise. Either you love it, or you hate it.
According to the World Health Organization, adults should participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, like power walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as playing basketball, every week.
Unfortunately, around 25 percent of adults worldwide fail to reach even this minimal level of physical activity.
Exercise is preventive medicine. It’s been shown that regular exercise can prevent heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.
The good news for those of us who just can’t seem to get moving?
There’s another, much more indulgent activity that carries a lot of the same benefits.
The benefits of a bath
Dr. Charles Steward of Coventry University believes he has found something that does a lot of what exercise does for us, only with a lot less effort.
“On first glance, comparing a hot bath or sauna to a jog might seem illogical — after all, the former tends to be seen as relaxing and the latter tiring — but they are more similar than you may think.”
Dr.Steward and his team of researchers examined volunteers who spent equal amounts of time in a hot tub and riding a bicycle.
Indeed, sitting in a hot tub or sauna won’t help you lose weight. It won’t trigger fat loss, strengthen muscles and bones, or increase your body’s ability to expend energy the way exercise will.
But the study found that passive heating provided other important benefits also produced by moderate to vigorous exercise:
- Sitting in a hot tub increased each participant’s heart rate and core temperature.
- Ultrasound scans revealed that it also increased blood flow through the arteries.
This mimics what happens when we engage in moderate exercises such as jogging or biking!
An increased heart rate makes your heart muscle more efficient and better able to pump blood throughout your body. This means that the heart pushes out more blood with each beat, allowing it to beat more slowly and keep your blood pressure under control.
Dr. Steward is quick to point out that a warm bath in your bathtub can be just as beneficial as a soak in a hot tub or time in a sauna. He says that the health benefits don’t depend on maintaining high core body temperatures.
He cites research at John Moores University showing that increasing core body temperature by only 0.6◦C, three times a week for six weeks, resulted in the growth of new blood vessels and increases in insulin sensitivity.
No substitute for exercise
“Using hot baths or saunas shouldn’t be considered as a substitute for exercise,” says Dr. Steward. “But it can mimic some of the health benefits — and we think that when used in conjunction with exercise, it can give rise to greater health.”
Long-term weight management depends upon expending more energy than you take in, so saunas or warm baths alone won’t help much if your aim is to lose weight.
But Dr. Steward points to research showing that protection against fatal cardiovascular disease is even greater in people who exercise regularly and also take frequent warm baths, as opposed to doing one or the other.
So next time you soak those sore, post-exercise muscles in a warm bath, you can feel good knowing that you’re doing all you can to keep your heart strong and healthy.
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The health benefits of passive heating and aerobic exercise: To what extent do the mechanisms overlap? —Journal of Applied Psychology
Physical activity — World Health Organization