Doing this once a day could be more effective for depression than exercise

‘Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression,’ wrote author Dodie Smith in I Capture The Castle. ‘I am sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath but I can’t think of one,’ Sylvia Plath agreed in The Bell Jar. A long, hot soak has long been seen as the remedy for many of life’s challenges – and now a new study has proved that the theory may actually have a grounding in science.

During the research, which was reported by New Scientist earlier this week, scientists at the University of Freiburg, Germany, asked half of a group of 45 people with depression to take a 30 minute warm bath every day for eight weeks. This was followed by 20 minutes of wrapping up in blankets and relaxing with a hot water bottle.

bath for depression
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They then asked the other half of the test group to take 40 to 45 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a week. After eight weeks, those in the bathing group scored six points lower on a commonly used depression scale, while those in the exercise group scored an average of three points lower.

Although the trial was small, and more extensive research would be required to prove the connection conclusively, the results do seem to suggest that taking a daily bath may help to relieve symptoms of depression in a more effective way than regular exercise.

bath for depression
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As for why the results were slanted this way? It’s thought to be associated with circadian rhythms, the cycles which control the sleep patterns and behaviour of our bodies, and are connected to temperature. People with depression tend to have a ‘flatter’ circadian rhythm, but taking a bath would increase their core temperature, thereby ‘strengthening’ their rhythm and likely improving the quality of their sleep.

Previous research has indicated that increases in body temperature can stimulate the release of ‘happy’ hormone serotonin, so the process of bathing also could lead to an overall improvement in mood.

The German study is a promising start, and although there are no guarantees that you’ll feel the benefit, a soothing soak is usually a pleasant experience regardless – so it certainly can’t hurt to give it a go.