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Could a hot soak help ease symptoms of depression? Lakehead researcher seeks study subjects to find out

A Lakehead University researcher in Thunder Bay, Ont., is recruiting subjects across Canada for a study to determine if immersing the lower limbs in warm water could help improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD.

150 across Canada needed for research on lower-leg immersion in warm water

A professor in the School of Kinesiology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., is investigating whether a warm bath, or even just putting your legs in warm water, can improve both mental and cardiovascular health. (Ron Desmoulins/CBC)

A Lakehead University researcher is investigating whether a hot bath really helps wash the stress away.

Nicholas Ravanelli, an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology at the Thunder Bay, Ont., university, is recruiting subjects for a study to determine if immersing the lower limbs in warm water could help improve symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"The push to getting this project on the way, to seeing if we could do something that's simple, at home, and potentially effective, was definitely sparked by the pandemic for sure," said Ravanellli.

He said there's already some evidence pointing to the benefits of heat therapy on both cardiovascular health and mental health.

Pandemic's effects on the mind

In the early days of the pandemic, the researcher said, data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggested about 20 per cent of Canadian citizens had been diagnosed with some kind of mental-health disorder.

That number is expected to rise — especially among front-line workers such as essential staff, first responders, doctors and nurses — creating the need for more resources and treatment options that don't require people to leave home, said Ravanelli.

"We're really trying to see if there's a simple effective solution that we can provide while they're undergoing other counselling… Ideally it simply would be the lower-limb water immersion or even a hot bath for 30 minutes a day, three times a week."

Nicholas Ravanelli, an assistant professor at Lakehead, is recruiting study subjects from across Canada for the research being funded by the Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association Clinical Innovation Opportunities Fund (Supplied/Lakehead University)

Because the first phase of the research can be conducted remotely, Ravanelli is looking for 150 men and women from anywhere in the country. They must be:

  • Over age 18.
  • Diagnosed with anxiety, depression or PTSD.
  • Willing to soak their lower limbs for 30 minutes, three times a week for eight weeks.

Subjects will be split into 3 groups

All the necessary information and equipment, including a water thermometer, will be sent to the homes of participants, who will be randomly allocated to one of three groups.

One will serve as a control sample, members of another group will immerse their lower limbs in lukewarm water, and the third group will put their legs in hot water "so we're actually exploring the effects of if it's actually heat that improves it and not just the symptoms of sitting in water," he said.

Ravanelli is working with Dr. Diane Whitney and Dr. Sarah Habinski of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. The research is being funded by the Northern Ontario Academic Medicine Association Clinical Innovation Opportunities Fund. 

More information on how to volunteer for the study can be found at withme@lakeheadu.ca

You can hear the full interview with  Nicholas Ravanelli on CBC's Superior Morning here.

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story had the headline "Could a hot soak help wash away depression? Lakehead researcher seeks study subjects to find out". It was changed because it may have inferred that warm water immersion could cure depression.
    May 21, 2021 11:44 AM ET

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