Have you ever seen the movie Doc Hollywood? If not, rent it. It’s cute.


My dad was a small town doctor and he was a lot like the grouchy old doctor in the movie. The other day I was reminiscing about my dad. For almost any complaint he would say, “Take a hot bath.”


Early in my life I thought that was funny. I thought it was just a trick he used when he didn’t want to be bothered or when he was unsure of how to treat a physical issue. Even so, I became a routine bather. I found the psychological and physical benefits were real.


Just for fun I googled the medical benefits of bathing.


It turns out bathing has a name: Hydrotherapy. It’s defined as the external or internal use of water in any of its forms (water, ice, steam) for health promotion or treatment of various diseases with various temperatures, pressure, duration, and site. Both the use of hot and cold water can have beneficial effects on the body, and  different effects are produced depending on the temperature of water.

The North American Journal of Medical Sciences compiled the research here. 


Bathing Can Improve Heart Health 

Bathing in high temperatures can put stress on your heart, but bathing in warm water makes it beat faster which improves circulation and blood flow. It can even lower your blood pressure.

*One hour head-out water immersions (WI) in various temperatures (32°C, 20°C, and 14°C) produced various effects. Immersion at 32°C lowered the heart rate (HR) by 15%, systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) by 11% and 12%, respectively, compared, with controls at ambient air temperature. Along with HR and blood pressure (BP), the plasma renin activity, plasma cortisol, and aldosterone concentrations were also lowered by 46%, 34%, and 17%, respectively, while diuresis was increased by 107%.


Bathing Can Help You Breathe Easier

That’s because a warm bath improves oxygen transport.


Bathing Aids Your Brain and Nervous System

Submergence in water can reduce pain and inflammation and also calm the nervous system, reducing the levels of stress and anxiety in the body and improving your mood. Ten minutes of immersions in whirlpools produced increases in pulse and finger temperature with increased feelings of well-being and decreased state anxiety


Bathing Can Have an Antidepressive Effect

A cold shower attributed to presence of high density of cold receptors in skin expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain. It has significant analgesic effect and it does not cause dependence or noticeable side effects.


Bathing Assists with Blood and Immunity

Not only does a warm bath make the blood flow easier, it also makes it more oxygenated by allowing you to breathe deeper and slower, particularly when taking in steam. Taking a hot bath or spa can kill bacteria and improve immunity. It can relieve the symptoms of cold and flu. Research has shown that cold water submergence can improve cell damage and decrease the risk of necrosis, possibly reducing the risk and survival rate of some cancers.


Bathing Aids in Birthing Process and Improves Health of Urinary System

Lots of research shows that women relax more and therefore minimize pain during the early stages of labor when immersed in a hot bath. Warm baths can aid internal urethral sphincter relaxation, which alleviates pain following surgery and can accelerate the healing process from episiotomy or birth related tearing.


Bathing Cleanses and Moisturizes

Exposure to fluid through bathing and steaming is a great way to ensure hydration of the body in all aspects. Hot water opens our pores and causes us to sweat, which is the body’s natural way of cleansing itself. Similarly, cold water can tighten our skin and reduce sweating and open pores, whilst still providing optimal hydration.


Bathing Regulates Body Temperature

After a sweaty run, taking a cool shower will bring your body temp back to normal, and on a cold day a warm bath will warm your body temp.


Bathing Helps Balance Hormones

Immune changes in humans during cold exposure: effects of prior heating and exercise. Conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and some fertility issues can be assisted by bathing in colder temperatures. Hormones released by the pituitary gland such as adrenocorticotropic hormone or ACTH and other hormones can become more balanced. Bathing in warm water can increase levels of serotonin, which is the chemical produced by the brain associated with happiness and well-being.


Bathing Helps Muscles and Joints

Cryotherapy or taking ice baths, can help to alleviate muscle strain and many athletes including runners will submerge themselves in freezing waters to counteract the damage or strain induced by exercise. Stretching and moving in water has been shown to be low impact on the joints, muscles and bones, but very effective in providing an adequate workout through resistance. There is also less chance of injury for people who are at risk of falls, which makes aquatic exercise ideal for the elderly. Taking a spa can alleviate some of the discomfort of conditions such as osteoarthritis, without any adverse effects or exacerbation of symptoms. Warmth and pressure of water also reduce swelling and reduces load on painful joints, remotes muscle relaxation.


In summary, bathing can improve immunity and manage pain. 

My dad was right.


Lucille Zimmerman is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a private practice in Littleton, CO and an affiliate faculty teacher at Colorado Christian University.

She is also the author of Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. Through practical ideas and relatable anecdotes, readers can better understand their strengths and their passions—and address some of the underlying struggles or hurts that make them want to keep busy or minister to others to the detriment of themselves. Renewed can help nurture those areas of women’s lives to use them better for work, family, and service. It gives readers permission to examine where they spend their energy and time, and learn to set limits and listen to “that inner voice."