If the results were essentially the same and you had to choose between exercising or taking a dip in a hot tub, which would you choose? English scientists are saying that this might not be a ridiculous comparison!

Loughborough University research associate Steve Faulkner calls this health research “passive heating,” and after 20 years of studying the subject, there is some exciting news.

Cycling vs. Hot Baths

Faulkner helped develop a modest study with 14 male participants, some of whom were tasked with cycling for an hour, while others got to spend an hour in a 104-degree hot bath. In addition to looking at calories burned, Faulkner’s team was also looking at how these activities affected the body’s glucose levels.

Through their research they found, Faulkner writes,”Cycling resulted in more calories being burned compared with a hot bath,” not surprisingly, “but bathing resulted in about as many calories being burned as a half-hour walk (around 140 calories).”

“The overall blood sugar response to both conditions was similar, but peak blood sugar after eating was about 10% lower when participants took a hot bath compared with when they exercised.”

The scientists also observed that taking a hot bath had positive anti-inflammatory effects similar to exercise, which is invaluable when combating sickness and infection.

“This suggests that repeated passive heating may contribute to reducing chronic inflammation,” Faulkner writes, “which is often present with long-term diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.”

More Hot Research

In isolation, it’s difficult to draw significant conclusions from a study of 14 British men, but the research at Loughborough University is just one of several studies involving passive heating conducted over the past 20 years.

Faulkner points to a 2015 Finnish study that “suggested that frequent saunas can reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke – at least in men.”

He also gave a nod to a recent University of Oregon study  “that regular hot baths can lower blood pressure.”

Adding strength to his narrative, Faulkner sites a 2016 study from University of Otago in New Zealand, which, as the English writer put it, showed that “Water immersion resulted in a greater increase in body temperature compared with exercise, as well as a greater reduction in average arterial blood pressure. This is important as a reduction in blood pressure is closely associated with a reduced risk of developing heart disease.”

Finally, Faulkner visited a McKee Medical Center study dating back to 1999, which had patients with type-2 diabetes undergo three weeks of hot tub therapy. “The results showed improvements in body weight, blood sugar control and a reduced dependence on insulin.”

What’s particularly exciting about this amalgamation of research is that it shows that passive heating—something as simple as time in a sauna or in a hot tub–can potentially help lower blood pressure and improve blood sugar control. This could be a watershed moment for those with high blood pressure or diabetes, for whom exercise can be difficult and potentially dangerous.

Obviously, more research needs to be conducted to better understand why and how passive heating seems to yield improvements for vulnerable people, but why wait for the scientists? Make time to relax in your local sauna or hot tub soon, and see for yourself.