The ancient Greeks and Romans regularly practiced something many people are avid about today. Centuries ago, emperors to everyday citizens valued the healing remedy of steam baths and hot water pools featured in elaborate private and public baths. Today, Iceland, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the United States boast some of the most restorative thermal pools and natural hot springs on the planet. A new research field—passive heating for human health—proves that hot baths even at home are a medicinal benefit to all ages, including seniors with a number of health conditions.
Five Benefits of Hot Baths
Soaking in a bubble bath is a luxurious routine for many folks looking for stress relief and their own quiet, personal time. But beyond this tranquility, researchers are finding that an extended sit in a hot bath, technically called hot water immersion, delivers up a tub full of health advantages.
1. Reduces inflammation
With exercise and physical stress, inflammation naturally increases in the body, which is followed by an extended release of anti-inflammatory chemicals to combat the sore muscles, redness and swelling. In recent years, studies have pinpointed that raising body temperature can improve the body’s anti-inflammatory response, as well. A British study in the Journal of Applied Physiology concluded that sitting in an immersion bath set at 102°F (39°C) for one hour could combat chronic low-grade inflammation in individuals without the physical capacity to do so during exercise.
2. Lowers blood sugar
Scientists at England’s Loughborough University analyzed blood sugar levels of men after they soaked in a hot bath for an hour. The result? Peak blood sugar after eating was lower when participants took a hot bath than when they exercised. Plus, bathing burned calories almost as effectively as taking a half-hour walk.
3. Lowers blood pressure and improves circulation
The British study on baths for reducing inflammation and a 2016 study by University of Oregon physiology researchers found that a hot soak elevates nitric oxide in the blood, allowing blood vessels to relax. Flexible blood vessels decrease blood pressure and promote better circulation and vascular function throughout the body.
4. Soothes aching muscles and joints
Drawing a hot bath or luxuriating in a sauna or natural hot spring is easy on tense muscles and aching joints. As the U.S. and British studies show, passive heat therapy diminishes inflammation and sends blood flowing through the body more readily—which acts as a natural healing balm to stiff, painful muscles and joints.
5. Improves skin health
Dermatologists have long touted the healing effects of bathtub mini-spas. Adding colloidal oatmeal to a warm bath can cleanse, soothe and protect dry, irritated skin. Eczema, a skin condition, can be treated with a bleach bath. Adding lavender essential oil to a warm bath can help heal skin and reduce anxiety, and rose essential oil in a warm bath can aid in reducing pain and stress. Remember to always dilute essential oils with a carrier oil, such as coconut, before adding to water.
Hot baths and Epsom salt baths are also credited with reducing headaches, lifting mood and promoting better sleep. As reported by the National Institutes of Health, balneotherapy, the practice of bathing to treat diseases with thermal mineral water, is another common healing hydrotherapy typically for chronic inflammation. Overly hot soaks can irritate the skin and break down the skin’s protective barrier against bacteria, viruses and allergens, so bathwater temperature should stay comfortable, but not scalding.
Bath Safety Tips for Seniors
January is National Bath Safety Month, the ideal time to start the year with reminders of how to stay comfortable and safe at bath time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that every year in America 30 million older adults fall, and at home, the highest rate for injuries is “in or around the tub or shower.”
“The CDC finds that bathrooms are generally the most accident-prone place in the home,” said Gregg Balbera, President of Right at Home Nassau Suffolk. “Because our professional caregivers assist seniors at home regularly, our care providers are extra attentive about safeguarding older adults in the bathroom, especially when bathing.”
When family members cannot supervise bath times for older loved ones and those with disabilities Balbera recommends that in-home caregivers provide assistance so the loved ones can enjoy a hot bath safely. The Fall Prevention Guide created by Right at Home offers the following bathroom safety tips:
• Add grab bars with color contrast inside the bathtub and near the toilet.
• Use nonslip mats, decals and strips in the bathtub and on the shower floor.
• Replace slippery rugs with nonslip rugs or add double-sided tape to keep rugs secure.
• Keep towels and other trip hazards off the bathroom floor.
• Be sure the bathroom and surrounding hallways have bright lighting.
Balbera points out that while hot baths are beneficial overall, it is important to note that soaking in a hot water bath raises a person’s heart rate. For those individuals with cardiovascular concerns, it is best to check with one’s doctor first about using a hot soak for lowering blood pressure and alleviating other ailments.