“I am sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath but I can’t think of one,” wrote Sylvia Plath in her iconic 1960s novel, The Bell Jar.
She had a point. Is there anything more comforting in this world than a bath? From Roman bathhouses to modern day Epsom salts, the tradition of bathing is timeless. It is a mystery what changes in us between childhood — when we wail against being forced to take a bath — and adulthood, when we yearn for a nice, long soak.
There is a scientific term for most anything and the therapeutic use of baths is no exception. “Balneotherapy” is the official term and just a brief search of the medical literature provides insight about how baths have proven to be clinically beneficial.
A recently published study from this spring in the journal Psychogeriatrics showed that a 12-day balneotherapy program had a positive effect on pain, mood, sleep quality and depression in healthy older people. Participants engaged in several different types of baths, including hot thermal baths, bubble baths, jet-massages, mineral water baths and even some with mud application. Regardless of the type, when participants were immersed in the bath, they showed improvement in blood flow, which was beneficial for enhancing muscle relaxation. Researchers also speculated that the buoyancy of the water helped interfere with spinal pain receptors, improving chronic pain from multiple types of disease.
Could your doctor someday prescribe you a bath?
According to another article from Clinical Rheumatology, published this year, many European doctors already prescribe baths to their patients with chronic diseases with great success. A German study published last year investigated the effects of bathing on salivary cortisol, a hormone that is elevated with stress. The researchers found that balneotherapy seemed to be more effective than other treatments in decreasing both subjective stress and measured cortisol.
And these aren’t just isolated, pro-bathing studies.
A 2009 systematic review of more than 200 articles about balneotherapy showed that the practice of taking baths is positively associated with improvement in several medical conditions, including rheumatologic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis) and chronic low back pain.
So, don’t delay, head to the tub!
You don’t have to have a chronic illness to benefit from a bath. No particular type of bath has been shown to be more beneficial than another. The important thing is that you take 15 to 20 minutes to calmly suspend yourself in warm water.
Here are some links to help you craft your own balneotherapy program:
TapGenes Take Away: A 15- to 20-minute bath has been scientifically shown to improve your health, here’s the research that proves it!