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Why baths are good for you

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A soak in the tub can help cure a multitude of ills. Turn on the taps and let the healing commence.

As Sylvia Plath wrote in The Bell Jar more than 50 years ago, “I’m sure there are things that can’t be cured by a good bath but I can’t think of one.” But despite their allure, these days 85% of Brits prefer a quick shower over long, relaxing baths.

This makes sense, given that a recent survey found that UK women only have 26 minutes of free time a day. Slipping into a cocoon of expensively scented bubbles in a free-standing roll-top bath is considered an indulgence, limited to those rare mini-breaks. But in all this we’re neglecting one thing: the bath is an untapped medicinal resource.

Tub therapy

Today’s fast-paced lifestyles mean that baths are overlooked, but other cultures have treated bathing as therapy for years. Ancient Greeks built temples around thermal springs while the centuries-old Japanese tradition for bathing in ‘onsen’ volcanic baths, with spring water as hot as 56°C, is still used to relieve metabolic complaints and rheumatism. Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, meanwhile, contain mineral-rich silt known to help treat psoriasis.

But you can save on a plane ticket by running a warm bath at home. A soak for 20 minutes in lukewarm water is calming and hydrating while 40°C is the optimum temperature to open pores and expel toxins. Avoid baths hot enough to redden the skin as this causes your heart rate to accelerate.

At its most basic, a bath speeds up circulation, soothes aches and pains and detoxifies the body, even more so when paired with curative ingredients. Pouring oats into the foot of a pair of tights and using it as a DIY ‘bath-bomb’ helps calm irritated skin thanks to avenanthramide, a compound inside the grain which inhibits the body’s histamine response and reduces itching.

Instead of booking a sports massage to relieve post-run aches, sit in a warm bath. Just 20 minutes will increase lymph flow, causing blood to rush to the skin’s surface, drawing inflammation away from the joints and relaxing muscles. Or take a tip from elite athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, who adds 250g of magnesium flakes to her bath. The blend of magnesium-rich Epsom salts and arnica in Liquid Yoga by Mio (£26) relieves aches and helps muscles to recover.

For menstrual cramps, try a dash of Neal’s Yard Remedies Aromatic Foaming Bath (£15.50). It contains the herb marjoram, which has been found to dilate the constricted blood vessels that cause cramps, helping to soothe period pain.

And while a soak won’t cure a cough or cold, lacing water with sandalwood and tea-tree oils – both anti-bacterial – can help to eliminate infections. Eucalyptus oil, meanwhile, will help to clear the respiratory tract.

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And relax...

Bathing can also help reduce anxiety and stress. A study conducted by Dr Neil Morris, senior lecturer in experimental psychology at the University of Wolverhampton, found that people who took a daily bath for 14 days had reduced feelings of pessimism, suggesting that it soothes the mind and the body.

And for the insomniacs among us, a bath can aid a restful night’s sleep.  “In order to prepare for sleep the body needs to cool down by half a degree,” explains sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley. This lowers the metabolic rate which stimulates tiredness. The quick drop in body temperature after a bath accelerates this cooling as the body overcompensates by radiating more heat than usual.

Need help to switch your brain off? The relaxing properties of lavender are well-known but Geraldine Howard, president of Aromatherapy Associates, recommends vetiver instead, saying, “It’s far more powerful when it comes to calming the mind.”

Just add five drops of Deep Relax Bath & Shower Oil by Aromatherapy Associates (£45) to warm water and breathe deeply and calmly, allowing your stomach to rise and fall. This yoga-inspired breathing sends a message to the brain to lower the heart rate and help switch off stress responses.

So next time you’re feeling stressed or achy run a bath, and reclaim the time you usually spend online. Your body will thank you for it.

Images: iStock

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