The Big Idea
OK so this one is really easy to explain! At least twice a week, take a hot bath in the afternoon for 30 minutes. Ideally, follow it by another 20 minutes taking it easy and staying warm.
We appreciate that #Tip1 – Cold Showers, might have taken a bit of courage or be something you needed to work up to! So here is a brain boosting tip that is a bit easier to imagine yourself really getting into!
The water needs to be pretty hot – the study we mention below used 40 degree Celsius water. If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t worry. 40 degrees is not super-extreme. It will feel hot when you get in – but it’s not scalding or uncomfortable.
So hopefully, The52Project suddenly feels like an experiment you could see yourself getting into?! Let’s take you through the science. Hopefully this research will help you offset any feelings of guilt you might have about taking yourself off for a long soak just as the kids finish their home schooling or you can find a break from your work calls. Taking regular afternoon baths was show to have a positive and measurable lift in mood for people suffering from mild to moderate depression. In fact, those people involved in the study found that hot baths were more effective than physical exercise as a mood booster.
Got It!…What’s the Science?
The study was done at the University of Freiburg in Germany. It involved a group of people who were experiencing depression. About half of them were on medication and continued with it during the trial. The participants were split randomly into two groups. Half started going to a spa for a soak twice per week and another group did supervised exercise twice per week. Researchers studied them to see which activity seemed to help most with their mood.
We are not going to pretend the study was huge or perfect – in fact it was small and ran into some issues. For example, the comparison group who were doing the physical exercise had more people drop out!
However as you will know, for The52Project, we are encouraging you to accommodate small new habits into your life, rather than giant commitments that you can’t keep. So perhaps that is an interesting “imperfection” in the study as far as we are concerned. It would seem to prove that a hot bath habit is easier for more people to keep up than an exercise one!
Small and imperfect the study may have been, but the science stacks up and the ease of doing this habit means that it could potentially be one of those things that is small pain, big gain…
To explain why it works, we first need to introduce you to something called your circadian rhythm. You might be familiar with the term already – it is the daily routine that our bodies and brains establish to help us get through the day. In a nutshell our bodies get into a rhythm so that we excrete the right biochemicals and have a core body temperature so that our behaviours “match” the appropriate time of the day. For example, feeling hungry at mealtimes or more awake in the morning.
Our core body temperature usually rises during the daytime, peak in the afternoon and falls at night. However, when people experience depression, the temperature rhythm is often flatter or delayed by several hours – so the peak comes at the wrong time.
So the afternoon bath helps someone who is depressed by raising their body temperature so that if they are not experiencing that “peak” of temperature naturally, a hot bath raises their core temperature just at the right time. Whilst the study was small, the science around circadian rhythms means that the findings makes sense. Nick Stafford, an NHS psychiatrist is quoted in the NewScientist, who first reported this story, as saying “I’m not suprised they found a benefit, I’m just surprised no one has tried doing this before.”
After just two weeks of hot baths, the people in that group reported a positive impact on their mood. The group who did the exercise did experience a mood lift, but it took longer to experience the uplift. This might have been one of the reasons that few people dropped out of the hot bath group – it worked quickly! And we are all for that in The52Project!
After eight weeks of hot baths, participants reported an 6 point improvement to their symptoms. Those doing the exercise did report and improvement – but by 3 points.
The root cause of depression is unclear but the most commonly held view is that it is linked to the production and absorption (neurotransmission) of serotonin. This study did not look to see whether taking a hot bath gave a serotonin boost, but it is known that there is an increase in serotonin release in response to an increase in body temperature.
Other studies have shown that talking a warm bath before bed can also help you to sleep providing you have a cool room to sleep in afterwards (about 18oC is ideal). So another reason that warm baths might help reduce depression is that they help people to sleep better by giving a more defined temperature gradient or step before we go to sleep. We will definitely be covering sleep tips in another #Tip later on.
And let’s face it. There could be another reason why it seems to work…a hot bath just feels lovely! For an extra mood mood boost try adding some lavender or ylang ylang oil to your bath – aromatherapy / smell to be investigated in another #Tip15!
If you are lucky enough to have access to a hot tub then definitely jump in! Hot tubs can be more easily shared and this social aspect is known to be beneficial – so you could have a double dose of wellbeing boost sharing a hot tub. The participants in our experiment started off their hot water exposure in a spa – and followed it up with a bath at home. Both appeared to work equally well. If you can do this outside, you could also get the combined benefit of sunlight, vitamin D or a spot of mindful nature watching: #Tip4, #Tip8 & #Tip11.
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New Scientist 22nd October 2018
The Guardian 23rd October 2018
On the Lighter Side
Michael McIntyre on hot baths (warning may contain language or references some might find funny – we mean offensive!)
Unless you are suffering from a heart condition which makes it dangerous to experience any sudden change in temperature, this one seems to us like it is definitely worth a 2 week trial. If your work-life does not allow you to incorporate a break into your working day, then try it on your 2 days off. However if you are working from home and you are in control of your own diary, consider giving it a go…just turn your Zoom off first!!!!
[…] with setting and staying in our circadian rhythms – such as sunlight (#Tip4) and temperature (#Tip2). Sounds simple so far but we got to thinking what happens when you have to work outside your […]