There’s something about soaking in a hot tub that just feels oh so good. But do hot tubs have any health benefits beyond relaxation? Integrative medicine physician Irina Todorov, MD, shares what science says about hot tubbing and your health.
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Are hot tubs healthy?
For many people, hot tubs boost physical and mental health by doing the following:
1. Relieves stress
“Using a hot tub or taking a hot bath helps calm your nervous system and improve your mood,” says Dr. Todorov. “Research shows that people who take hot baths instead of showers report lower levels of stress.”
Hot tubbing probably isn’t going to cure mental health problems. But a hot soak gives you some time to relax and unwind, so go ahead and enjoy it without guilt.
2. Manages muscle aches
A quick dip in the tub may be just what you need for muscle pain. A hot tub makes sore, tired muscles feel better because:
- Heat increases blood flow and helps loosen tense muscles.
- Buoyancy (floating) in water takes pressure off joints.
- Immersing your body in water could help prevent muscle damage from exercise.
“Achy muscles or a tense back often feel better after using a hot tub,” says Dr. Todorov. “Hot water is a good alternative to over-the-counter pain relievers for mild to moderate muscle pain.”
Don’t stay in the hot water for more than 15 minutes, though. Using a hot tub for too long could send too much blood flow to your muscles, which can lead to swelling.
3. Helps heart health
But talk to your provider before hot tubbing if you have any health conditions.
“Heating up in a hot tub makes your heart beat faster,” she adds. “The heat can stress your heart and may be dangerous for people with heart disease.”
4. Lowers blood pressure
“Soaking in hot water widens your blood vessels, which lowers your blood pressure,” explains Dr. Todorov. “Lower blood pressure can help you relax, but the effects are only temporary. Your blood pressure returns to normal a few minutes after you get out of the tub.”
But if you already have low blood pressure (hypotension), the hot water could be too much.
“People who already have low blood pressure should avoid soaks that are much hotter than body temperature,” cautions Dr. Todorov. “Their blood pressure could drop to dangerously low levels.”
But if you have high blood pressure (hypertension), hot tubs are likely safe and could be beneficial.
“Most people with mild hypertension can safely use a hot tub,” she notes. “But hot tubbing cannot take the place of your medical treatment or blood pressure medications.”
5. Improves your sleep
If you have trouble nodding off at night, a hot tub could help. The muscle-relaxing, mood-boosting effects of hot water can help you soak the day away and prepare you for sleep. You also experience a change in your body temperature that tells your body it’s time for dreamland.
Your body temperature changes throughout the day and naturally dips when you approach bedtime. So, heating up in a hot tub — and then cooling off — encourages the drop in temperature that happens before you fall asleep.
“This increase in temperature, and subsequent drop after you get out, could encourage better quality sleep,” says Dr. Todorov.
But don’t wait until bedtime to slip into the tub.
“Give your body time to cool back down, or you won’t feel tired,” she adds. “Get out of the tub about 90 minutes before you plan to go to bed.”
Is it OK to hot tub every day?
Many people reap the benefits of regular hot tubbing and can safely do it every day if they choose. But don’t use a hot tub or take hot baths if you’re pregnant. A higher body temperature can harm a developing fetus, especially in the first trimester. You should also avoid hot tubs if you have:
- Impairment from alcohol or substances that could hinder your awareness.
- Epilepsy or another seizure disorder unless you have a trusted adult partner with you.
- Low blood pressure.
- Open cuts or sores.
Healthy hot tubbing tips
Some hot tubs are breeding grounds for germs. Only use hot tubs that you know are regularly cleaned and well-maintained with the proper levels of chemicals. A hot tubbing ritual can be safe and healthy if you:
- Don’t let the water temperature exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). If you’re not sure, check the temperature with a tub thermometer or your finger. Enter slowly to avoid burns or shocking your body.
- Get out of the tub if you feel too hot, dizzy or get a headache. These could be signs that you’re dehydrated or your blood pressure is getting too low.
- Install barriers like locking gates around home hot tubs. Use a latching cover to keep it clean and help keep children safe.
- Limit your dip to 15 minutes or less, or you risk making muscle pain worse.
Heating up can be healthy
If you’re in good health, go ahead and enjoy a hot soak. But keep in mind that the health benefits are a bonus, not a replacement for medical care.
“A hot tub isn’t going to solve any health problems, but it can feel great,” says Dr. Todorov. “And if you start to feel unwell or you just don’t like the heat, it’s a sign you should get out.”