Like soaking in a hot tub? It could be just what the doctor ordered for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
According to new research, soaking in a hot tub several times a week for two months boosted cardiovascular health in obese women with the disease. The researchers noted beneficial changes in fat tissue, along with the potential to reduce diabetes and other metabolic disorders.
Women with PCOS have an increased risk for diabetes and obesity, which are deemed to be related to fat tissue dysfunction and inflammation.
“Repeated heat exposure appears to reverse some of the inflammation in fat that may be causing metabolic health impairment in this population,” said Brett Romano Ely, a doctoral candidate in the University of Oregon department of human physiology who conducted the study. He presented the research last month at the American Physiological Society annual meeting in San Diego.
Heat therapy has several benefits for health, but Ely’s was the first study to look at how it affects women with PCOS as well as changes in fat tissue.
The study sample size was small, though. In it, six women with PCOS soaked for one hour in a hot tub three to four times a week for about six months. The scientists looked at the women’s fat tissue before and after the study concluded, and also evaluated insulin sensitivity in four of the women.
At the conclusion of the two-month study period, the women had reductions in fasting glucose, reduced blood pressure and heart rate, and other improvements in measures of heart health and metabolism. Some women say it helped them have regular menstrual cycles.
Experts say that hot tubbing could give you some of the same perks as an aerobic workout, because it raises body temperature and increases blood flow. Heat exposure makes the body produce heat shock proteins, which lower inflammation—and that repairs damaged insulin receptors as well as blood vessel structure and function.
“We see blood flow patterns in subjects in the hot tub that look like what we see in subjects during aerobic exercise, so this change in blood flow may have a similar benefit to exercise on blood vessel health,” Ely said.
Want to replicate the study at home and get more benefits out of your next soak? Ely said the tub was set to about 219 F. They did not have the jets on, so similar results could “likely be achieved in a hot bath, provided enough of your body is underwater, and the water is hot enough,” he told HelloFlo.
“This is important because we believe that an increase in deep body temperature during the hot tub is important in driving these changes,” he added.
Women in the study submerged themselves to their collarbones for about 20 to 30 minutes before sitting upright for the next 30 to 40 minutes. It’s a deeper water immersion than you are often able to get in a standard bathtub, and likely longer than a typical bath, Ely noted.
“However, other studies looking at shorter-duration sauna use or lower body hot water immersion are still seeing some health benefits, so even if a shorter hot bath isn’t quite as effective as a 60-minute hot tub, there is evidence to suggest that any heat exposure sufficient to increase body temperature [so that you begin sweating] will have health benefits,” he added.