Baths are wildly popular with kids. The splishing. The splashing. The adorable little rubber duckies.
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But as a busy grownup with a job, bills to pay and a schedule to keep, you may not feel like you have the luxury of soaking in the tub until your fingers get all pruney. Maybe you’re not anti-bath. But it’s just not your top priority.
So, you jump in the shower. You do what you gotta do. You towel off and move on with your day.
But you’re missing out. Because a relaxing bath can really do you some good.
“Taking a bath has great physical and mental health benefits,” says family medicine provider Amy Zack, MD. “Soaking in a tub is something many people have access to but don’t take advantage of enough. But it can be beneficial for a lot of people.”
Baths shouldn’t be an everyday thing. But if you can carve out 10 or 15 minutes for a bath just once a week, you may find it makes a difference in your overall health. Dr. Zack shares why baths are good for you and a few tips for getting the most from them.
1. Clean and exfoliate
OK, so maybe your main focus here is to get your body clean. We hear you. And bathing can get the job done in more ways than one.
That’s because baths give your skin some time to soften, so as you’re scrub-a-dubbing, you get the added benefit of exfoliation. That’s great for keeping your skin silky smooth and a perfect time for a close shave.
“Bathing cleans your skin, helping you avoid irritation, inflammation and sores caused by dead skin cell accumulation,” Dr. Zack explains. “It can also help you clear away the bacterial and fungal load from contact in your environment. As that accumulates, it increases your risk of infection.”
What’s more, the warm water opens up your pores. That flushes out the grime that builds up over the day and lets your soap really get in and do its job.
2. Improve your mental and emotional health
Picture it: Soothing music, a good book, a candle burning in your favorite scent. Done right, a bath can be the ultimate in self-care — something many people just don’t do enough of. Self-care isn’t about being selfish or neglecting others. It’s about taking time to respect your own needs.
Self-care relieves stress. You probably think of stress as an emotional burden, and it is. But it’s also toxic for your body. Stress has been connected to a number of ailments, like:
- Sore muscles.
- Heart disease.
- Hair loss.
- Acid reflux.
- A weakened immune system.
- Weight gain.
Some research studies also suggest that a type of warm bath therapy may have positive effects on people living with depression. Warm baths are linked to decreases in stress hormones and more balanced serotonin levels, which help regulate mood.
For maximum relaxation, close the door and say “no” to endless interruptions.
3. Sleep tight
At least one study shows that taking a warm shower or bath before bed can help you fall asleep faster and sleep better.
Here’s why the researchers say may happen:
Throughout the day, your core body temperature fluctuates a bit. That’s normal. For ideal sleep, your temperature needs to drop about two or three degrees. And while it might seem like taking a bath gets you all warm and cozy and, therefore, increases your temperature, it’s actually the opposite.
As your body warms up in the bath, it brings your blood to the surface. That means your heat is pulled from your core. That lowers your body temperature and promotes relaxation and sleep.
And there’s more to it.
“Baths also create a good environment for meditation, thought and escape from everyday stressors,” Dr. Zack notes. “Promoting relaxation helps you let go of things that can keep you awake as you try to wind down.”
For your best sleep, try a 10- or 15-minute bath about an hour or two before bed.
4. Soothe your aching muscles and joints
There’s a reason just about every sports movie shows athletes hanging out in a big metal bathtub in the locker room after the big game. Soaking in a warm bath can help with muscle soreness and tension.
Taking care of your achy muscles will help you get through your day with less pain. That means more range of motion and improved ability to exercise. Win-win.
If you’re feeling adventurous, ice baths can also be an option for some people with sore muscles. Chill the bath temperature to between 53 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit (about 12 to 20 degrees Celsius).
That’s pretty cold, so start slow. Try soaking in an ice bath for about five minutes (if you can hack it), maxing out at no more than 10 minutes.
5. Help heal (some) wounds
Dr. Zack says that baths can help soothe some infected sores and wounds. Your doctor may recommend soaking an affected area with a warm saltwater solution to aid healing. But some wounds should be kept dry, so check with your doctor before dipping.
Baths done right
Now before you run to the tub and turn your bath on full blast, let’s set a few ground rules for maximum benefit:
- Don’t take a bath every day: Daily baths can dry out your skin by ridding your body of its natural oils. Try for baths no more than twice a week. Shower between bath days.
- Use warm (not hot) water: Some people may experience dizziness or weakness when the temperature is too hot. Keep the tub temp under 104 F (40 C).
- Enjoy, but don’t linger: As a general rule of thumb, 10 or 15 minutes is just about right. Stick around long enough for your fingers and toes to just start to wrinkle, not much more.
- Opt for gentle cleansers: Fragrance-free is the way to be. Scented soaps and body washes can zap moisture from your skin. Choose products labeled as “gentle” or “sensitive skin” for best results.
- Keep your towels fresh: Nothing will undo the good effects of a warm bath like drying off with a dirty germ magnet. Wash your towels at least once a week.
- Don’t forget to moisturize: Bathing and showering can rinse the natural oils out of your skin, leaving your skin tight and dry. Using lotion after a bath can keep your skin hydrated. Choose a moisturizer that’s hypoallergenic and free from fragrances and botanicals for the best effect.
- Keep your tub clean: A dirty tub can be counterproductive. After all, you can’t really get clean if you’re soaking in a pool of dirt and grime. Keep your tub clean by spraying it each week with a bleach cleaner to kill off any lingering bacteria.
Enhance your bath
While bubbles or bath salts may take your bath from enjoyable to life-changing, Dr. Zack says that plain old water is fine, too. No need to overthink things here.
But if you do want to add a little something extra to the tub, consider kicking it up a notch with some Epsom salts, which can further help you relax and ease your aches and pain.
Add about a cup and a half of Epsom salts to a tub full of warm water. Soak for about 15 minutes to experience the benefits. Again, don’t overdo it. Using Epsom salts or another bath product too often can dry skin as well, leading to itching, irritation and eczema.
And people with sensitive skin should avoid bath bombs or bubbles, as they could cause redness, itching or scaling. But if your skin doesn’t seem to mind them, go ahead and treat yourself on occasion.
Cleaning your body doesn’t have to be just one more thing on your to-do list. It can be a chance to care for your physical and mental well-being.