Repeated warm water baths decrease sympathetic activity in humans

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2022 Jul 1;133(1):234-245. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00684.2021. Epub 2022 Jun 23.


Acute whole body heat stress evokes sympathetic activation. However, the chronic effects of repeated moderate heat exposure (RMHE) on muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) in healthy individuals remain unclear. We performed RMHE with 4 wk (5 days/wk) of warm baths (∼40°C, for 30 min) in nine healthy older (59 ± 2 yr) volunteers. Hemodynamic variables and MSNA were examined before, 1 day after, and 1 wk following 4 wk of RMHE in a laboratory at ∼23°C. Cold pressor test (CPT) and handgrip (HG) exercise were performed during the tests. Under normothermic condition, the resting MSNA burst rate (prior, post, post 1-wk: 31.6 ± 2.0, 25.2 ± 2.0, and 27.7 ± 1.7 bursts/min; P < 0.001) and burst incidence (P < 0.001) significantly decreased after RMHE. Moreover, the resting heart rate significantly decreased after RMHE (62 ± 2, 60 ± 2, and 58 ± 2 beats/min, P = 0.031). The sensitivity of baroreflex control of MSNA and heart rate were not altered by RMHE, although the operating points were reset. The MSNA and hemodynamic responses (i.e., changes) to handgrip exercise or cold pressor test were not significantly altered. These data suggest that the RMHE evoked by warm baths decreases resting sympathetic activity and heart rate, which can be considered beneficial effects. The mechanism(s) should be examined in future studies.NEW & NOTEWORTHY To our knowledge, this is the first study to observe the effects of repeated warm baths on sympathetic nerve activity during rest and stress in healthy middle age and older individuals. The data suggest that the repeated warm baths decreased resting sympathetic activity and heart rate, which can be considered beneficial effects. This study also provides the first evidence that the repeated warm baths did not alter the baroreflex sensitivity and the sympathetic responses to stress.

Keywords: autonomic; heart rate variability; heat therapy; stress; sympathetic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Baroreflex / physiology
  • Baths*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Hand Strength* / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Water


  • Water