Taking a Hot Bath is Better than Exercise For Relieving Depression, Study Finds

Soaking twice a week can be enough to keep the blues away.
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With the cold, dark days of winter mere weeks away, those of us with seasonal or any other kind of depression tend to struggle a little more than everyone else.

Luckily, science has uncovered something very simple that can ease depression and make your days a whole lot better: Hot baths.

According to new research from the University of Freiburg in Germany, just two hot, relaxing afternoon baths a week significantly improved symptoms of depression, and were apparently even more effective than exercise.

For the study, researchers had 45 people with diagnosed depression either soak in 40 degrees Celcius (104 Fahrenheit) for 30 minutes then wrap up all warm and snug in blankets and hot water bottles for another 20 minutes twice a week, or do 40 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a week.

Girls in Tubs

After eight weeks, both groups scored lower on a commonly used depression scale, but those who took baths scored significantly lower than the exercise group at an average of six points lower versus an average of three points, respectively.

The reason why hot baths help relieve depression, according to New Scientist, is because they help normalize and strengthen your natural circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour cycle of our physiological functions and processes.

In people with depression, circadian rhythms are out of whack, and instead of their core body temperature rising during the day and dropping at night (which causes the release of melatonin at night), their core temperature stays approximately the same throughout the day and any fluctuations are delayed by several hours.

Girls in Tubs

With that said, hot baths raise core body temperatures, thereby helping the physiology of people with depression return to normal.

However, not all of us have the time to take a leisurely a.k.a. long-ass bath in the afternoon twice a week. So, for those who don't have the luxury of setting aside a designated "Hot Bath Hour," here are some options to create a similar effect:

  • Take a hot shower
  • If you're at work, fill up a hot water bottle and hold it against your abdomen
  • If you go to the gym in the afternoon, use the steam room and/or sauna
  • Relax in a Jacuzzi

But I'd like to note that these suggestions are not scientifically studied, and are simply educated recommendations for raising your core temperature.

Furthermore, "depression is thought to be related to low levels of the brain-signaling molecule serotonin, and research in rats has shown that serotonin-releasing neurons connected to mood-regulating regions of the brain fire in response to increases in body temperature," the Guardian explains.

More research is needed to truly understand why hot baths help improve depression. But whatever works, especially if it involves not doing anything other than soaking.