BRB, we have a steamy date in the tub!
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Woman with white towel on her head relaxing in bath with eyes closed
Credit: Adobe Stock / Artem Varnitsin

Remember when taking a break for self-care (such as getting a massage, doing yoga or listening to music) felt self-indulgent? No longer. Scientists have proven that each of those activities is a boon for our bodies and our brains—and is far from a waste of time.

And now, we have another reason to add some R & R to our agendas, thanks to research from Loughborough University published in the journal Temperature: Relaxing in a hot bath can burn as many calories as a 30-minute walk, about 140 calories.

Wait, what? It's all about the body's core temperature, the scientists explain, and what it does to the body's metabolic rate.

To determine this, the researchers enlisted 14 men to cycle for 60 minutes or sit in a 104°F bath for 60 minutes. Their goal by assigning those specific activities was to raise the core body temperature of the participants by 1.8°F during that hour. They tracked the calorie burn at minute 60, and also measured blood sugar levels 24 hours later.

The 60-minute cycle burned many more calories, but the hot bath was definitely not inconsequential. Just sitting burns about 50 calories per hour or so, which means lounging in a toasty tub burns quite a few more calories. The tub time also triggered an anti-inflammatory response similar to the one you'd achieve after exercise.

"This suggests that repeated passive heating [like sitting in a hot bath or sauna] may contribute to reducing chronic inflammation, which is often present with long-term diseases, such as type 2 diabetes," Steve Faulkner, a research associate at Loughborough University and study co-author, explains on The Conversation.

Another study published in The Journal of Physiology found that regular hot baths over the course of 8 weeks can lower blood pressure, possibly due to an increase in levels of nitric oxide (which dilates blood vessels and, in turn, reduces blood pressure).

Worth noting: This was an extremely small and short-term study, and all of the participants were men. More research is needed to determine if the same holds true for women, and if these results play out among people of more diverse backgrounds.

Until we know more, it's important to keep in mind that a hot bath definitely can't replace all of the health benefits of exercise. But if you're deciding between watching another episode of your latest Netflix binge or running a steamy bubble bath to soak in for the same half-hour, the verdict is pretty clear. The latter can definitely boost mental health—and thanks to this emerging research, we have a hint that it can possibly benefit physical health, too.