Bath bombs were an absolute game-changer for soaking in the tub. Before I could plop a bright purple orb into my bathwater, or watch a pitch-black ball turn everything dark and shimmery, baths just didn't seem that luxurious to me. Enter just about every Lush product ever, and I was hooked. Nothing seemed more pampering than a soak in the tub with a book of poetry and a new candle. If you feel me, then you'll probably be overjoyed to learn about all the health benefits of hot baths. So pull out a smooth face mask and get the bubbles ready, because you'll be treating both your mental health and your physical body to some fancy self-care.
It turns out that your favorite self-care ritual can potentially act as a substitute for a gentle workout, according to new research from the American Physiological Society. But before I get into the details, let me just say this: Even the warmest bath with the fizziest bath bomb imaginable isn't going to strengthen your abs or suddenly teach you how to bench a ton of weight. But, according to this new study, a soak in the tub might help to improve your metabolic health on those days when you just aren't going to make it to the gym.
The research, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, had 10 male participants sit in 102-degree water up to their necks for one hour. After 10 more sessions of this over a two-week period, the researchers discovered that the men's bodies showed decreased inflammation, improved insulin sensitivity, and better metabolic health — aka benefits you'd usually reap from a typical gym sesh.
If you're scratching your head at phrases like "decreased inflammation," allow me to break this stuff down for you a little. See, working out doesn't just affect how physically strong you are; there's a lot more going on inside your body whenever you sweat it out. "Each time we exercise, it seems that we are doing something good for our body at the cellular level," Suzi Hong, PhD, associate director of the Integrative Health and Mind-Body Biomarker Lab at the University of California San Diego, told Health. In fact, Dr. Hong worked on a study on this subject back in 2017, and the research, which has been published in the scientific journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, showed that as little as 20 minutes of brisk walking can significantly reduce the body's inflammation levels.
But why is inflammation such a problem, you might ask? Well, following an intense workout, your immune system can respond to the physical stress by producing redness, swelling, and pain, Laurel Wentz, PhD, RD, CSSD, an assistant professor in nutrition at Appalachian State University, wrote in a fact sheet for the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association. "Acute inflammation is a normal response to high-intensity exercise," Wentz explained, "but prolonged (chronic) inflammation is a sustained response that affects the entire body." In other words, it's normal to notice things like swelling or redness after you exercise, but if you don't properly manage those symptoms, it can actually damage your muscles and stop them from growing.
That's where the baths come in — but not just any old soak will do the trick to help repair your muscles. Make the most out of some time in the tub by using the heat to stretch out your muscles, recommends the Arthritis Foundation. As the warmth of the water begins to stimulate the blood flow to your muscles, try gently stretching out any areas that might be sore. Of course, if your bathtub is a little cramped, light stretching as soon as you get out will also be effective.
Plus, aside from the fact that it honestly just feels so luxurious to pamper yourself in the tub, a nice, long soak can also be great for your mental well-being, especially if you add one specific thing into the water: "Epsom salt helps stabilize mood and relieve stress," Naoki Umeda, MD, internist at the Center for Integrative Medicine, told Cleveland Clinic.
So go ahead and sprinkle some epsom salt into the tub, put on a relaxing playlist, and enjoy your rest day, my friend.