If you’re like most Americans, you probably shower at least once a day. Perhaps it’s your way of waking up in the morning, or maybe it’s how you unwind at night. But according to a new study led by Japanese researchers, you may be cheating yourself out of a number of mental and physical health benefits by opting for a shower over a soak in the tub.
For whatever reason, most of the world seems to have adopted showering or sponge baths as the preferred way of getting clean. Indeed, a number of market surveys have reported a nearly pathological aversion to baths across many cultures. The notable exceptions here are Japan and India, where full-body soaks are equally as popular as showering.
While it’s easy to see the appeal of a bath from a relaxation perspective, researchers from the Japan Health and Research Center, Tokyo City University and Jichi Medical University sought to determine if there were any quantifiable health benefits of taking a bath over a shower.
In a randomized study consisting of 33 Japanese people recruited online, the subjects were asked to only do full-body immersion baths for two weeks and then showers for two weeks, or vice versa. The subjects would then self-report their health status daily, using a 100-point scale to report their general health, skin condition, pain, fatigue, stress, and smile in the mirror. After the completion of each two-week period, the subjects completed a widely-used health survey and “profile of mood states” survey to gauge how each bathing method affected their overall physical and mental health.
According the researchers, the self-reported health and skin conditions were markedly better during the two-week bathing period. The subjects also reported a significant drop in fatigue, stress and pain from taking baths compared to taking a shower. The physical benefits, they hypothesize, has to do with hyperthermic action, which warms the blood in vessels near the surface of the skin. This increases overall body temperature, spurring the metabolism and eliminating metabolic waste products, which “refreshes the body.”
Although this study in balneology has its limitations, namely the relatively small sample size and a possible cultural bias since “Japanese like bathing in general,” the researchers claim it adds substantive data to the mounting body of evidence demonstrating health benefits from full-immersion bathing.
Although taking a shower is almost always better than a bath in terms of environmental impact, baths appear to be the winner in terms of individual mental and physical health. So maybe it’s time to tell the roommate to scrub out the tub so you can let yourself soak— for your health, of course.