When I was 14, I moved in with my grandmother, and her house, well … it was missing a few things. The home was built in the 50s, I believe, and it still had a rotary phone. In fact, she’d actually been renting the phone from Bell for about 30 years. Her house also didn’t have a dishwasher, so I ended up filling that job. And it for sure didn’t have a shower — only a bathtub, which was something I initially hated, but eventually fell in love with. In fact now, at the age of 38, I rarely take showers because I got pretty accustomed to the simple relaxing few moments I get by soaking in the tub. I have a pretty bad anxiety disorder, and I’ll be honest, when I’m really stressed, a hot bath is my go-to. But as it turns out, taking a hot bath isn’t only good for my mental health.
A very extensive study out of Japan is showing the benefits of soaking in hot water. The study was published in the May 2020 issue of the journal Heart. 30,000 people were followed for more than 20 years. They were asked about how often they soaked in hot water. It wasn’t always in a bath, mind you; Japan is notoriously volcanic, so there are a number of hot springs. So many, that soaking in them is more or less part of Japanese culture, known as onsen. They were asked how hot they like their bath, “lukewarm, warm, or hot.” I like my baths pretty warm, although I will admit, I don’t take baths with people often, or ever… so I don’t know exactly how my temperatures compare.
Anyway, 72% of these 30,000 people said they took a bath almost every day, which I will admit, made me a little jealous. What they found was people who took a bath almost every day, as compared with those who only took a bath twice a week, had a 28% lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Taking a bath each day also decreased the risk of a stroke by 26%. How awesome is that? If you have a family history of heart trouble, taking a bath might be a huge benefit to you.
There is science behind all of this. Shinya Hayasaka, a professor at Tokyo City University, did an interview with Deutsche Welle about the studies’ findings. He had this to say as to why a hot bath is so beneficial to your heart: “Soaking in hot water causes the arteries to relax and expand, boosting circulation. The blood brings oxygen and nutrition to all the cells in your body — as many as 37 trillion, by some estimates — and carries away carbon dioxide and other waste products. It is this boost to the circulation that is responsible for the restorative feeling you get when you soak in the bath, as if the accumulated fatigue of the day is floating away on a cloud of steam.” I’ll admit, that last line got me. I kind of want to stop writing this article and soak in the tub for a while.
What about the shower? While this study doesn’t directly discredit them, Hayasaka does mention in his Deutsche Welle interview that the increased rush of modern lifestyle has caused only 40% of people to bathe — in the bathtub, that is — each day. Then he gave the grim assessment that this could lead to a rise in heart attacks and strokes.
Keep in mind, this all comes with a warning. According to Harvard Health Publishing, taking a hot bath is great for lowering blood pressure. But not so awesome for those of you with already low blood pressure. Dr. Adolph Hutter, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, cautioned, “People who are in their 70s and older whose blood pressure is on the low side also should be extra careful.” The reason being, if the water is too hot, your blood pressure might get too low. This can make you dizzy, light headed, and from my own personal experience can cause you to pass out. (This actually happened to me as a teenager as I was getting out of my grandmother’s bath tub, and I ended up with a concussion.) Hutter goes on to say that, “A water temperature of 100° to 105° F is reasonable. Get in slowly, so your body can accommodate gradually.”
So my friends, if you are on Team Bathtub, I say, bathe on! Use this study as leverage to take a long warm soak in the tub, no shame. Do it daily, and mention that you are just doing what needs to be done to take care of that very important organ: your heart. Your mental health is just an added bonus.