When it comes to your heart health, even the smallest changes to your lifestyle can make a major difference. But while most of us are keenly aware of the effects of diet, exercise, and stress levels on our heart health, fewer among us realize that our bathroom habits may play a role in cardiovascular wellbeing, too. Following a two-decades-long study, experts now say that doing this one thing in the bathroom can significantly slash your risk of a heart attack. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that this daily habit—which may already be a part of your routine—provides benefits “similar to the impact of exercise.” Read on to find out which habit can cut your risk of cardiovascular disease and how to do it safely.

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Taking a daily hot bath may significantly lower your heart attack risk.

A 2020 study published in the medical journal Heart found that taking a hot bath every day may significantly lower your risk of heart disease and heart attack. The study drew on extensive medical and personal data gathered between 1990 and 2009 from the Japan Public Health Center-based Study Cohort I, which included complete data sets from over 30,000 middle-aged participants with no history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or cancer. After adjusting for other factors that affect heart health, including diet, exercise, and smoking habits, researchers found that taking a daily hot bath was associated with a 28 percent lower overall risk of cardiovascular disease when compared with those who took baths once or twice a week, or no baths at all.

These findings seem to indicate that healthy adults who wish to lower their heart attack risk may be able to do so by taking daily hot baths. While the exact temperature of the bath did not appear to affect the findings, Harvard Health Publishing notes that a hot bath in Japan would customarily be between 104 and 107 degrees Fahrenheit, and these were likely the conditions of the study subjects. The research team also noted that in Japan, it is typical to bathe with water that comes up to shoulder height, and this could be a critical factor in any health benefits the habit may provide.

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Frequent hot baths may also greatly reduce your stroke risk.

Taking a daily hot bath was also found to lower one’s stroke risk by 26 percent compared with less frequent bathing. Though the study was observational—and therefore unable to establish causality—the team speculated that both heart attack and stroke risks may be reduced because of a hot bath’s ability to lower blood pressure. The Cleveland Clinic explains that this occurs because as the skin heats up, the blood vessels dilate to cool the body down, drawing blood away from the body’s core toward the skin.

“We found that frequent tub bathing was significantly associated with a lower risk of hypertension, suggesting that a beneficial effect of tub bathing on risk of [cardiovascular disease] may in part be due to a reduced risk of developing hypertension,” the team explained.

However, there are also some serious risks to taking hot baths.

While the researchers observed certain cardiovascular benefits to bathing regularly in hot water, they also highlighted past findings on known risks associated with the habit.

“There can be no doubt about the potential dangers of bathing in hot water, and the occurrence of death from this increases with age, as well as with the temperature of the water,” wrote Andrew Felix Burden, MD, in a linked editorial.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the risk is greatest when one’s heat exposure is sudden or prolonged—particularly when hot tubs or saunas are involved. Their experts say that “sudden or extended immersion in hot water can superheat your body and stress your heart.” Those with an existing coronary condition may experience a surge in heart rate and pulse meant to counteract the drop in blood pressure—and in rare cases, this can lead to a serious medical event.

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Certain conditions may make taking a hot bath unsafe.

According to Harvard Health, most people with no history of heart disease, and even those with “stable heart disease and even mild heart failure” should be able to take regular hot baths safely. “But people with unstable chest pain (angina), poorly controlled high blood pressure, or other serious heart issues should avoid them,” their experts write. They say that in particular, individuals over the age of 70 and those with low blood pressure should exercise caution by easing into the tub gradually and opting for a lower water temperature. Ideally, this should be between 100 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, you should look out for signs that your bathing habits are causing harm to your health. It’s time to cool down and hydrate if you notice nausea, abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness, faintness, or any other notable signs of physical discomfort while bathing. If any of these symptoms are severe or happen regularly, make sure to speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

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