We asked Bathe author Suzanne Duckett to explain the transformative power of a long soak in the tub.
There are few pleasures to rival the rare, innate idleness and exquisite stillness of a soak in a bath. Baths are the ultimate equaliser and the most accessible and universal form of self-care for both men and women, with the remarkable power to instantly transform how we look and feel. For some, baths are a weekly exercise in self-indulgence and a luxurious personal ritual with twinkling candles, oils or salts poured into the water and a glass of wine to hand. For others, a daily wash while reading a crinkled book is part of their wind-down schedule before bed. For many, having a bath is the only time in the day when they can simply shut the door on the world and be on their own; it is an indulgent moment of privacy and solitude.
I have always been a bath rather than a shower person. Whilst I do appreciate the virtues of a shower, and they are important for time and water saving purposes (although a bad shower can use as much if not more water than a bath tub!), we need to view showers and baths a bit like fast food on the run and a proper meal - if you don’t have time and are on the hop a shower will do the job, sure, but slowing down and taking the time to treat yourself to a long hot bath is always going to be so much more comforting, soothing and emotionally nourishing than a speedy shower. Plus there’s more to a bath than cleaning your body and when you realise the health benefits, it’s a no brainer.
One study at Yale University in the US for instance showed that having a bath could make you feel less lonely, warding off feelings of isolation and that many of us take warm baths to consciously eliminate feelings of being alone. The greater the feelings of loneliness, the longer we stay in the bath and the hotter the temperature. Scientists concluded that the association between warmth and comfort is hardwired in our brains in infancy, explaining why we seek comfort in the tub.
More recent studies mirror this, showing that hot baths for 20 minutes twice a week can help alleviate mild to moderate depression and also that immersing in hot water can have similar benefits to exercise. Bathing also burns calories, yes it’s a fact. A new study, published online in the Journal of Applied Physiology is the latest research to suggest that a regular hot bath could produce responses that mimic some of the effects of a gym workout. Experts at Loughborough University found that sitting for an hour in a hot bath lowered blood sugar levels more effectively than spending the same amount of time cycling, benefiting people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers also showed that the anti- inflammatory response after having a bath is similar to after exercise. This helps us fight off infection and disease and can reduce chronic inflammation associated with illnesses such as type 2 diabetes.
Since ancient times, bathing in water has been equated with physical and mental health, and the science speaks for itself. There is even a term for the practice – balneotherapy – which means the treatment of disease through bathing. Here are just a few of its boons:
• Improves circulation and heart health: Taking a hot bath will make your heart work faster and become stronger, giving it a healthy workout and improving circulation. This increases sweating so will help to eliminate toxins, viruses and bacteria from the body.
• Relieves muscle aches and pains: Baths have always been a tonic for aching muscles. This is because they raise the temperature of sore muscles and block pain receptors, producing pain relief.
• Calms the nervous system: Bathing reduces stress and anxiety and can boost mood. A study at the University of Wolverhampton found that a daily bath, usually at the end of the day, significantly improved the mood and optimism of the participants.
• Helps with coughs and colds: The best way to reduce inflammation and dry out mucus in the nasal passages and throat is to help clear them with steam. A 2011 study also found that elevated body temperature can help certain elements of the immune system to function more efficiently, warding off infections and viruses.
• Aids sleep: A good night’s sleep is associated with everything from weight control to better immunity and pain recovery, and baths are long proven to help the body drift off.
• Benefits muscles, joints and bones: Moving in water has been shown to lessen impact on joints, muscles and bones; it also improves postural stability.
• Purifies and softens the skin
Cleopatra is said to have preserved her great beauty by bathing in the milk of 700 lactating donkeys each day, Winston Churchill insisted on having two hot baths a day to de-stress from the pressures of being a wartime leader and Freddie Mercury came up with the idea for ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ while taking a dip! Virginia Woolf conceived many of her greatest ideas in the bathtub, perhaps the act of getting hot and sweaty was what helped her think up the idea for her novel, The Years. She said as she soaked, she dreamt up ‘an entirely new book – a sequel to A Room of One’s Own about the sexual life of women...’
Oprah Winfrey is one of my more modern day bathing muses - she says: ‘I major in bathtubs. I spend my time looking for the best bathtub a woman can buy.’ Tom Ford once admitted taking up to 5 baths day ‘I just go soak in hot water and lie there, thinking, 'What should I do?' So it's meditative." he said. Emma Watson has been reported as saying that she takes a bath every. Single. Day. “If I can have two or three – amazing!” she added. She takes calls in them, fills them with Epsom salts, and also just soaks apparently!
Bonnier Books UK has launched Bathe: The Podcast with Suzanne. Over six episodes Suzanne invites special guests from Melissa Hemsley to Ward Thomas to join her in some truly immersive experiences: discovering the invigorating power of bath and birch, the emotional harmony of sound and steam, and the soothing energy of mud and ice.