For some people, exercising can be a drag. On the other hand, hot baths are generally not a drag. What if someone decided to see if there were any way we could possibly benefit, health-wise, from a hot bath?
If you've ever wondered such a thing, there is some potentially good news. Researchers at Loughborough University in the U.K. decided to see if there was any merit to increasing one's body temperature by way of a hot bath. They gathered 14 men, who were either instructed to soak in a relaxing hot bath (40 degrees C, or around 104 degrees F) for an hour or do an hour of cycling. Both activities were designed to raise their core body temperature one degree C, even though one group was literally lounging around and the other was kicking ass on a cycle.
Once these far different tasks were completed, the researchers measured how many calories each group burned during their sessions. They also measured their blood sugar levels during a 24-hour time period.
The news, as you may have guessed by now, was pretty freaking awesome. While the cycling group burned more calories than the hot bath group, the bath group still burned a nice little chunk of calories by doing nothing more than warming up — to the tune of around 140 calories, which is about the same as a half-hour walk.
Even cooler? The effects of both activities on the participant's blood sugar level was similar, but the hot bath group showed a 10 percent decrease over the cycling group after a meal three hours later.
While it's clear that passive heating is not comparable (nor a true substitute) for actual exercise, and while we acknowledge that the sample size in this particular study was really, really small, it's encouraging to know that a hot bath has the potential for measurable therapeutic benefits. Public bathing has a long, colorful history throughout the world, and in addition to being the center of social life in some civilizations, the practice continues to be a draw in certain areas, such as in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a nice, hot bath waiting for me.