The Burning Truth About The Hot Tub Diet
Have you heard? Maybe you’ve even Googled it. “Do hot tubs burn calories?” While hot tub weight loss might sound kooky, research has found that lounging for an hour in a hot bath burns the same number of calories as a half-hour walk. Say what now? No lie. It’s a phenomenon called “passive heating” and it comes straight form a legit scientific journal called Temperature.
Now, while we’re all for shortcuts from time-to-time, research touting hot bath weight loss really makes our blood boil. Hmm … perhaps that’s a good thing? Maybe we’re burning the same number of calories as a full hour walk with the passive heating we’re experiencing from our frustration!
Don’t get us wrong; research is great and seeking to understand how the body is affected by any number of stimulants, including a soak in hot water, is fantastic, without question. Passive heating for human health is a field of research with interesting insight. Studies through the years have uncovered passive heating’s ability to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke (in men), improve cardiovascular function, treat high blood pressure, improve peripheral circulation in people with type 2 diabetes, and positively affect metabolism through control of blood sugar.
Exploring these findings is certainly admirable, and we don’t mind admitting it can potentially be life-changing for folks who cannot exercise. But, when articles (even in jest) suggest that a soak is equal to “earned” sweat, the new sound bite becomes sexier than the new study.
Is the Research All Wet?
The quick answer is no. But let’s do a deep dive into the findings to find out more. Steve Faulkner of Loughborough University (one of the researchers) says that a hot bath reduces blood sugar levels and increases energy expenditure up to a whopping 80% after an hour of hanging out with your rubber duckie.
But it has to be hot water, Faulkner notes. The participants’ glucose monitors indicated the impressive energy purge happened at a temp of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning a warm water soak wasn’t as effective as a hot bath.
But why though?
They’re called heat shock proteins. They activate when we’re working out, or any other time our body temperature spikes. “Heat shock proteins are molecules that are made by all cells of the human body in response to stresses,” says Faulkner. “Raised levels of these proteins may help the function of insulin and improve blood sugar control.”
Interestingly, diabetics have lower levels of these proteins, and because some diabetics have difficulty with physical activity (for various reasons) an hour-long soak in hot water might be a good way to burn some calories as one lifestyle choice of many to reach a healthy weight.
Trade the Purple Turf for the Hot Tub?
Not so fast. The study also found that participants burned 630 calories during an hour of cycling…and reaped many other health benefits from the activity, of course.
The hard truth is, recent studies have shown there are more under fit people now, than ever before. We are more time-crunched, stressed out, and sedentary than we’ve ever been. And, society heralds the hack. So, when people read about a new way to bypass moving their bodies to burn calories and try alternative possibilities to lose weight, two things inevitably happen:
1. It still doesn’t work, they actually hijack their body’s attempt to balance their blood sugar levels, and they become even more disenfranchised, thus the start–stop cycle continues; or they abandon their efforts all together.
2. They completely miss the point that moving your body is more important than burning calories ever was or will be.
Here’s the reality: Sure, calories play a role with in whether or not you lose (or control) your weight. But, moving your body in any way and as often as you can will do you more good than finding the quickest calorie-burn, regardless of how it’s accomplished. It’s more important for us to continue discussing the connection between sitting and sinking (sinking into the grave, that is).
A Healthy Hybrid
So let’s make this a win-win and double dip in the calorie burning pool! Picture this: you finish a workout, you’re pretty wiped, and maybe even a little sore. You get home, fill up the tub with hot water, sink in, and ahhhh, a little TLC—plus a bonus calorie burn.
Not to mention the fact that hot water causes capillaries and blood vessels to dilate. This makes our blood flow more freely, which aids in recovery after a workout. Increased blood flow to sore areas, injured areas, all areas, really, decreases inflammation and promotes healing because our circulatory system is kind of like nature’s nurse, running around and checking on things, then rendering aid when necessary.
And if the mere idea of that helps manage your stress, you’re not alone. Self-care like this improves our mental health and reduces cortisol levels. You may know that high levels of cortisol are not only an indicator of high stress levels, but one of the negative effects of high cortisol levels is weight gain. And why would you do all the work of working out, only to worry your way to weight gain? You wouldn’t. So get your butt in that hot bath and chill out. It will help you meet your weight loss goals (if you have weight loss goals) because the fact is hot tub soaking reduces stress, mitigates the negative effects of cortisol, burns calories and helps you drop pounds. Water for the win!
But weight, there’s more! Not only does a hot tub burn calories, aid in healing, and ease your mind, but hot tub use also helps you get a good night’s sleep. Chronic insomnia and sleep deprivation are some of the biggest hurdles on anyone’s weight loss journey. A sleep deprivation study by the University of Texas at Austin found that bathing in hot water from 104 to 109 degrees 90 minutes before bed helped people fall asleep an average of 10 minutes quicker. Hot damn, hot water!
On a related note, a study published by Mayo Clinic found reactions in the body from sauna bathing similar to that of water bathing. A typical sauna session increases your heart rate from baseline to anywhere between 120-150 beats per minute. And if you were to safely remain in that sauna session as you would a bath filled with hot water, the calorie burn could be similar as well.
(And guys, if all this sounds great but you’re worried about how the heat will impact your testosterone levels, the research is varied but it seems it impacts sperm and motility rather than testosterone, so maybe hang out in a warm bath and read all about it.)
The Real Secret
We don’t care if you ever run a marathon, or bench press your body weight. We don’t even care if your heart rate ever gets past a moderate intensity. We would just love for you to find something that involves moving that makes your heart sing. See, that’s the issue. We’ve placed all these constraints on exercise. It has to be in this way, for this many minutes, and, oh yeah, no pain, no gain. And that’s just not true.
We’ve made exercise a sport. It’s time we started writing more about all the different ways you can “exercise” for your overall health and expanding our definition of what falls under this heading. Perhaps, even exchange the word exercise for movement. Then, become aware of all the things you get in the moment from moving your body, versus it being a means to an end. People crave immediate results, and as long as we are dangling a carrot far down the path, exercise will be a chore. It’s important it becomes a daily gift. Read NO Sweat and you’ll see what we mean.
According to our calculations, there’s no question that a good hot tub session on a regular basis can be part of a healthy lifestyle. It helps us get a good night’s sleep, easing chronic insomnia, decreases chronic pain, lowers cortisol, and just makes our minds merry. Plus knowing it burns a good number of calories, which puts the wind at our backs on our weight loss journey to help us arrive at a healthy weight sooner, makes us even happier. But, let’s not trade in our afternoon walks for the “Hot Tub Diet” (or sauna) believing it’s the same kind of energy expenditure and will help us reach our weight loss goals. While they’re both relaxing, and both the walk and the hot tub burn calories, the walk will add more years to your life to enjoy many more soak sessions. And that’s what really matters!