How the humble bath can be as good as a massage
Updated: Jun 2
I could really do with a massage right now, couldn't you? Ten weeks of lockdown and a rollercoaster of emotions have given my back more than a few aches and knots – particularly up round the shoulders. Obviously social distancing means it's not possible to get a rub at the moment – unless someone in your household is willing, of course – but a bath is not only relaxing but as restorative and healing as a massage. It's just not necessarily the first thing we turn to to unwind (Netflix, glass of wine)! So here are three reasons to wallow in a bath and give your body and mind a treat tonight...
1. It lifts your mood
A study by the University of Freiberg, in Germany, on the effects of regular warm baths on people with depression showed that a daily soak can have a fast, uplifting effect and help with feelings of depression. Just as a massage is taking the time to focus on yourself, so is a bath, and the warmth of water – like the touch of massage – can have a hugely positive impact on how you feel.
2. Calms your body's stress response and can balance hormones
Massage is known to have a positive effect on the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which controls the fight-or-flight response that can go into overdrive during stressful times. Hot water immersion also calms the ANS and can reduce the amount of cortisol the body produces – too much cortisol in the body reduces progesterone production, which can lead to a hormone imbalance that can cause menopausal symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, depression and mood swings.
3. Relieves muscular aches
While the soothing strokes of a massage increases blood flow to your muscles, a bath's warm water also increases blood flow to muscles and ligaments, improving oxygen flow to tense areas which can relieve pain, reduce inflammation and encourage healing. Add a cup or two of Epsom salts to the bath and you, in effect, turbo charge the healing power of water. Epsom salts are magnesium sulphate, and magnesium is not only an important mineral for muscle recovery but it can help with insomnia and low mood, it helps calm the nervous system and it has been shown to support heart and bone health, which can be affected by fluctuating hormone levels. I find I always have a good night's sleep if I have an Epsom salt bath, in fact all I can do afterwards is fall into bed!
Vicky King is a massage therapist focussed on helping women alleviate the symptoms of PMS and menopause, and finding the best and easiest ways to apply self-care.