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Is a Hot Bath Really as Good as Exercise?

Michael  W. Smith, MD - Blogs
By Michael W. Smith, MDBoard-certified internistMarch 30, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

Could it be possible that a hot bath burns as many calories as a walk?

Full disclosure: When I first heard about this study, my eyes might have rolled back in my head. Turns out, there might just be something to it … might.

It’s called passive heating. What that means is soaking in a very toasty, hot tub. Researchers at Loughborough University in the UK found that men who took an hour-long hot bath burned as many calories as if they had taken a 30-minute brisk walk – about 140 calories.

It was only 14 men, so the findings are iffy at best. And of course, there are a few more catches.

First, the water has to stay at a steady temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit for an hour. Your best bet may be a hot tub, which not everyone has access to. Second, you need to find a free hour to do nothing. While that may sound very appealing (it sure does to me), one of the most common reasons for not exercising is lack of time. If that’s a go-to excuse for you, finding that hour could be an issue.

I get that you may not love exercise. It may be a constant struggle. If that’s you, and you can find a tub that meets the need (and an hour to sit in it), there’s certainly no harm in a good soak. No one will argue with the mind-healing benefits of a relaxing bath. And it may do your body some good, too.

Research into passive heating is very early, but there are a few other possible benefits. It may help:

  • Lower blood sugar a little by increasing substances called heat shock proteins
  • Decrease inflammation (could be due to some alone time to calm the brain)
  • Lower blood pressure a few points, possibly by increasing nitric oxide levels in the body
  • Reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke

To be fair, though, the list of benefits from exercise is quite a bit more extensive. It can help you:

  • Live longer
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent heart attack and stroke
  • Decrease blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Lower blood sugar levels and prevent type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of some cancers, including breast, colon, lung, and uterine cancers
  • Strengthen your bones to prevent osteoporosis
  • Build stronger muscles
  • Keep your brain functions strong
  • Prevent depression (can even help treat depression)
  • Improve sleep

Take-home message? Take a long, hot bath. It’s good for you. But it’s not another excuse to not exercise. Regular activity is absolutely one of the best things you can do for a healthy body, mind, and soul. And then you can reward yourself with that relaxing soak. Doubly healthy!

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About the Author
Michael W. Smith, MD

Michael Smith, MD, CPT, is a board-certified internal medicine doctor and WebMD’s Chief Medical Editor. He is also an American Council on Exercise certified personal trainer with a passion for helping people live a healthy, active lifestyle. He appears regularly as an expert on national and local broadcast media.

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