Articles

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT A BATH

An evening in a bath with a good book can be as hard on the nerves and physique as wrestling a grizzly — depending on the temperature of the water, where it comes from and how you react to it. Only Eskimo can be sure of not doing the wrong thing: he never takes a bath

JAMES BENDIGO September 15 1951
Articles

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT A BATH

An evening in a bath with a good book can be as hard on the nerves and physique as wrestling a grizzly — depending on the temperature of the water, where it comes from and how you react to it. Only Eskimo can be sure of not doing the wrong thing: he never takes a bath

JAMES BENDIGO September 15 1951

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT A BATH

Articles

An evening in a bath with a good book can be as hard on the nerves and physique as wrestling a grizzly — depending on the temperature of the water, where it comes from and how you react to it. Only Eskimo can be sure of not doing the wrong thing: he never takes a bath

JAMES BENDIGO

IN CASE YOU’RE thinking of taking a bath, stop and consider the case of the Ottawa store manager who reported recently to his doctor that he felt tired all the time. “And don’t tell me,” he added, “that I would have more pep if I got more sleep. I sleep eight or nine hours a night and swallow every kind of vitamin pill the druggist sells.”

The physician could find nothing wrong physically, so he asked, “By any chance, do you take a lukewarm bath when you get up in the morning? You do? That may be it. A lukewarm bath is a sedative—in fact one of the most effective sedatives known.”

His patient abandoned his morning lukewarm bath and immediately felt better. However, his solution may not be yours, for people seem to vary

widely in their reactions to soap and hot or cold water. Eskimos and Tibetan lamas avoid the problem by not taking baths at all, but if you insist on bathing now and then it might be useful to know what you’re letting yourself in for.

For example, if you have trouble sleeping check the temperature of that bath you’ve been taking just before turning in. If it’s above 104 degrees it’s a hot bath according to medical standards and, while a hot bath makes some people drowsy, most people are stimulated.

There are sound physical reasons for this. A hot bath suddenly surrounds your body with an environment six degrees above its normal tempera-

ture. Immediately the blood vessels close to the skin dilate to maintain your internal temperature at 98 degrees, so your blood pressure increases and your pulse rate speeds up. With your heart beating faster you feel stimulated, active, alert, so it isn’t surprising that sleep comes slowly.

A cold bath (below 92 degrees) has a somewhat similar effect and won’t help you much if you’re the intense nervous type. When you bounce out of a nice warm bed and inflict a cold bath or shower on your unwilling body the shock is considerable. Your sympathetic nervous system, convinced that danger threatens, calls on the adrenal glands. Adrenalin is injected into your blood stream, your heart pumps more vigorously, and up goes your blood pressure.

Doctors point out Continued on page 34

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that it’s not surprising if all this internal activity leaves you keyed up and jittery. You can avoid these

harmful effects by starting your shower or tub with lukewarm water and gradually turning it colder. It isn’t a good idea to stay in too long either. After about eight minutes of icy immersion your pulse and heart rate will decrease, oxygen intake will fall, and you may well feel somewhat torpid, like a hibernating bat. This delayed reaction

explains the usefulness of the “cold pack” used to quieten the mentally ill.

Are you troubled with rough red skin? Your bath may be responsible. Some people have extra-sensitive skin, easily irritated by water and soap, especially during the cooler months. Some dermatologists say that during the winter nobody should bathe more than once or twice a week. Many common skin ailments, these doctors believe, are due to over-bathing. Opinion is divided on this, but all agree that if your skin is naturally thin and dry baths are likely to roughen and redden it, especially if the water in your neighborhood is hard.

This is most likely to be the case if you live in the area round the Great Lakes. Lake water is usually quite hard, with the magnesium, calcium and iron salts dumped by inflowing rivers. Any of these may be irritating to your skin. Toronto water, for example, is about ten times harder than the gentle stuff from taps in Vancouver which comes from the mountains. Softest water of all, of course, is rain water, since the atmosphere is free of minerals.

Be Sure You’re Not Allergic

Even if you’re lucky enough to be able to bathe in soft water it may still be hard on your skin—depending on the temperature of the water. A surprisingly large number of people are super-sensitive to extremes of heat or cold. The symptoms are similar to those of allergy, which is an unusual sensitivity to certain proteins. Exposure to hot or cold water makes these sufferers develop hives, pimples or rashes. In extreme cases, according to a study made at McGill University, this heat or cold sensitivity may actually produce nausea, weakness, heart palpitations and collapse.

A case of this cold allergy was reported in Vancouver recently. A highschool boy was taking a cold bath after dinner when his parents suddenly realized he had been in the bathroom for an hour and a half. Loud knocking on the door failed to rouse him and finally his father and a neighbor broke down the door. They found the boy unconscious on the floor. He was so sensitive to cold water that he had barely managed to get out of the tub before he fainted.

Two Vancouver physicians who have studied this cold allergy have suggested a simple test. Doctors Abraham Bogoch and Margaret Mullinger recommend that you dip your hand in a bowl of cold water and keep it there for six minutes. If it swells up or starts to burn there’s a chance you’re extrasensitive to cold baths. You can’t even be sure of building up immunity by taking repeated icy plunges.

But don’t give up the idea of bathing completely. The right bath at the right time may do wonders for you. One physician bathes away the cares and fatigues of the day. Every night he fills his tub with lukewarm—not hot —water. He sits in it for twenty-five

minutes. Then he pats himself lightly with a towel and feels as relaxed and cheerful as a kitten. Here’s his explanation:

“The body has a complicated temperature - regulating mechanism that works continuously whether you’re awake or asleep—but not when you’re reclining in a lukewarm bath. Then your environment is at your normal body temperature, your body performs no work at all, so you enjoy complete rest. You can relax fully, especially with the water to form a partial support for your muscles. That’s why a half hour in a lukewarm tub can relax a nervous individual more effectively than the most powerful drugs.”

This physician points out that there’s

no reason why you can’t spend the whole evening with a good book in such a bath, turning on the hot water now and then to keep the bath between 92 and 98 degrees. You can buy a bath thermometer for a dollar if you’re interested in getting the temperature right.

The wise bathophile adjusts his bath temperature to his purpose. While a lukewarm bath can soothe the troubled psyche, a hot bath performs different but equally valuable services. Some doctors are convinced that people don’t take enough of them.

One doctor said recently: “People

will jump into a hot tub after working in the garden or playing a round of golf, but otherwise they confine themselves to cool or tepid baths. Many have the mistaken idea that hot baths are debilitating, or actually damaging. The truth is, a ten-minute soak in a hot tub is a stimulant, medicine and tonic all rolled into one. It relaxes tense muscles, soothes aching ones, helps blood circulation and restores vitality.”

Do you feel sleepy and lazy when you get up in the morning? Most people do. One of the best eye-openers is a quick hot bath, followed by a brisk rub-down with a hot towel. A hot bath is equally good as a prelude to an evening out. Try it—you’ll find you won’t yawn so much later on.

There is one false notion about hot baths that doctors would like scuttled. This is the idea that hot baths can help you lose weight. Some bathomaniacs claim that a session in a hot tub will melt off the lard. It won’t. Sweat isn’t fat. The only reliable way to cut down your poundage is to reduce your calorie intake to the point where it matches your energy output.

By the way, you needn’t be afraid of catching cold from taking cold baths in cool weather. Just how you catch a cold is still a subject for speculation, but a British scientist, C. H. Andrews, showed recently that chilling can probably be ruled out. He had a group of young men take baths and then stand around in a draughty passage, while they wore wet bathing suits and damp socks. His conclusion: chilling neither induces nor favors colds.

Not long ago another experimental group demonstrated one of the more puzzling effects of taking a bath. In this test University of Chicago students sat for five minutes in cold baths. Then checks were made on their visual acuity and reaction speeds. It was found that both were markedly improved. The effect vanished when the subjects stepped out.

A still more remarkable feature of the common, or enamelled, bathtub was discovered during World War II. Aviation researchers solemnly revealed that a fighter pilot wouldn’t be so likely to black out if he sat in a tub full of water. Presumably the uniform pressure of the water, acting on the superficial blood vessels, was supposed to keep the blood from piling up in the pilot’s feet when his brain needed it. (You black out or faint when the blood drains away from the brain.) Later the basic idea of the flying tub was used in the G-suit, which did the job by hydraulic pressure within a double-walled suit.

Recently doctors have suggested baths are helpful in treating several common, ailments. Dr. F. S. Brien, of London, Ont., told delegates at a recent convention of the Canadian Medical Association that hot baths were useful in aiding arthritics.

“A daily hot bath,” he said, “may be of considerable value in stimulating circulation, relieving pain and muscle spasms.” He recommended starting with three-to-five minute baths, increasing to fifteen minutes.

At a meeting of the Ontario Medical Association Dr. George Armstrong, of Ottawa, reported that warm salt baths are an effective treatment for pains in the feet and legs. Other doctors have reported the successful use of baths for digestive troubles, neuritis, gout and some blood-vessel disorders.

Doctors hasten to point out the dangers of employing the common tub for everything that ails you. One physician cited the case of a woman who had a recurring pain in her right arm and shoulder. She had heard that hot baths were good for rheumatism, so she soaked herself each night in a hot tub. It turned out that her pains were symptoms of heart disease, for which hot baths are definitely out.

In early days, however, bath enthusiasts recommended tubbing for every ailment in the book. Carolled one publicist in 1759: “The warm bath is a certain cure for colds, lowness of spirits, headaches, hysteric complaints,' convulsive asthma. Pain and sickness, dejection and weakness are cured by cold baths, the person scarce believing he is the same man.”

On the other hand, Louis XIV of France was so convinced bathing was injurious that he refused to take a bath more than once a year. Many people of his time bathed only in milk to avoid the supposed ill effects of water, which, they were convinced, caused respiratory ailments, headaches, nervous condition and heart disease.

As recently as 1902 a Chicago physician, John Dill Robertson, announced that the growing habit of bathing encouraged pneumonia, made people soft and damaged the skin by washing off perspiration. Water, soap and rubbing, Robertson said firmly, combined to remove the outer layers of the skin, leaving vital parts unprotected.

You probably don’t need to worry about this. Your skin is constantly renewing itself, sloughing off the old dead particles. In fact by the time you’re seventy you will have lost fortyfive pounds of skin in this way. Bathing simply washes away these unattached fragments, which would have fallen off anyway. You’ll never miss them. -Ar