Depression affects about 16 million American adults every year. Common symptoms include persistent sadness, fatigue, lack of motivation, disrupted sleep, body aches, feelings of hopelessness, poor concentration, and thoughts of death or suicide. If you experience several of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see a doctor. Depression is typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication. However, once you have begun a treatment plan for depression, there are several ways you can further reduce the symptoms. Eating a healthy diet of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, beans, legumes, and omega-3s has been shown to reduce depression symptoms. Exercise also has significant benefits, including improved mood, concentration, memory, and emotional regulation. However, a new study suggests another practice that might work even better: hot baths. The study from the University of Freiburg in Germany assigned participant to either soak in a 104 degree bath for 30 minutes every afternoon or to do aerobic exercise for 40 to 45 minutes twice a week. The results were surprising. The exercise group reduced their scores on a common depression scale by an average of three points, but the hot bath group reduced their depression scores by an average of six points. The researchers attribute this improvement in symptoms to changes in participants’ circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms control and coordinate the release of hormones throughout the day, such as releasing cortisol to wake you up in the morning and melatonin to help you sleep at night. In people with depression, the circadian rhythm is typically disrupted, which why sleep disturbance is a common symptom. The hot baths may help regulate the circadian rhythm by increasing core body temperature in the afternoon. A more regular circadian rhythm also improves sleep, which can reduce depressive symptoms. Other studies have found that the heat itself might improve mood. A part of the brain called the dorsal raphe nucleus is activated when body temperature rises. It releases serotonin as part of the process of cooling the body down. Serotonin is also associated with positive mood, so it could be that a hot bath works in basically the same way as an SSRI–by raising serotonin levels in the brain. There are a couple of caveats worth mentioning. This was a small study, with only 45 participants. Also, compliance within the exercise group was low. The exercise group also only exercised twice a week, whereas the hot bath group took a bath every day. If the circadian rhythm really is responsible for the relief of symptoms, it could be that raising your core temperature through exercise would have a similar effect. However, despite these caveats, the effect does appear significant and there’s not really a downside to taking a hot bath every day. What’s more, there’s no reason you can’t take a hot bath and get regular exercise.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.