Hot springs have been favored by various societies throughout history. Today, they are often used for relaxation and recreation, but evidence suggests that hot springs also provide a few health benefits to those who soak in them.
More research is needed on the subject, but there are a few health conditions and concerns that have historically been treated with the mineral-rich thermal water found in hot springs. In this article, we will look at the known health benefits of hot springs that have made them an integral part of life and culture.
The Top Health Benefits of Hot Springs
Note: most experts agree that balneotherapy, which is the act of bathing in thermal water for medicinal benefits, should always be used in conjunction with more conventional forms of treatment.
One of the most common reasons that people seek out hot springs is for rehabilitation. Those who are recovering from sickness or injury often find the experience of a hot soak relaxing, and the mineral-rich water may also help them on their path to healing.
According to Peninsula Hot Springs, mineral water spas or hot pools are being used by therapists in Australia for a range of work-related conditions, such as back-related injuries and tenosynovitis. Therapists use hot spring therapy in conjunction with massage and other treatments.
The heated water in hot springs works by expanding blood vessels and providing the body a break from gravity, which can put a lot of pressure on a person in rehabilitation.
Those who have had invasive operations and surgery might find that a soak in a hot spring can help to usher them back to health more quickly.
2. Painkilling Properties
Some who soak in hot springs have found that the experience provides pain relief. While the painkilling properties of hot springs aren’t known to be as strong as medicated pain relief, hot springs can provide a subtle analgesic effect to those with chronic pain.
In particular, a study published in Rheumatology International found that soaking in a hot tub can relieve pain throughout the whole body, as well as fatigue. This is because the heat of the water can reduce a person’s perception of pain by affecting the pain receptors in the body.
This effect can lessen all types of pain, but those with mobility issues may find particular relief. In addition to the heat of the water, the buoyancy makes it easier for them to move without pain.
3. Skin Benefits
Skin conditions are among the most common ailments that people use hot springs to heal. As Circle DNA explains, ancient people used thermal water as their primary source of bathing water, and this has since been linked to the effect hot spring water can have on the skin.
Because hot springs are abundant in silica and sulfur, they are believed to be effective at treating conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
Silica works by making the skin feel smooth and helps it to maintain elasticity. Meanwhile, sulfur removes toxins and impurities from the pores, and has been known to help aid those with dermatitis and other skin conditions.
Along with the medicinal benefits that hot springs have on the skin, they also lead to beauty benefits. The minerals within the water reportedly result in clearer skin and can help relieve acne, provide hydration, and also have anti-aging effects thanks to the antioxidant levels.
4. Mental Health Benefits
The mental health benefits of visiting a hot spring are well-documented, and perhaps the number one reason why people choose to have this experience.
Sitting in hot water is inherently calming, but mineral water in particular has been known to help with relaxing tense muscles (which can also help with associated pain).
Hot springs can also lead to a night of better sleep because the rise and fall of your body temperature as you enter and exit the water can have a sedating effect.
According to Everyday Health, the setting that a hot spring is located in can also influence how relaxing the experience is. For example, those springs in natural or basic settings can actually provide an extra calming effect, which can help ease the symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
While chronic mental health conditions typically require more extensive treatment than just a soak in a hot spring, this calming experience can definitely work in conjunction with other therapy to promote relaxation and an improved mood.
5. Chronic Health Condition Relief
There are certain health conditions that hot springs are believed to directly help. A 2012 study cited by Touch Therapy revealed that hot springs can aid those with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, knee osteoarthritis, and ankylosing.
Healthline notes that more study is needed to prove the argument that hot spring water can completely cure health issues, however, there is evidence to suggest that hot spring soaking relieves aches and pains associated with the joints, which is often a symptom of rheumatoid conditions.
There have also been claims that hot springs can benefit those who are dealing with heart disease. This is because research conducted in 2016 found that hot springs may boost vascular function and blood pressure (more on that below!).
6. Improved Circulation
Improved blood circulation is one of the most well-known benefits of hot spring soaking. According to MiNDFOOD, this occurs due to minerals such as calcium and sodium carbonate, which our bodies absorb. The result is an increase in circulation and oxygen flow.
Meanwhile, Everyday Health explains that the heat of the water has a positive influence on the body’s cardiovascular system, leading to lymphatic system drainage.
A 2016 study cited by the website showed that those who participated in hot water therapy over a duration of eight weeks experienced improved blood vessel dilation and improved blood pressure. They also experienced arteries that were less stiff.
The improved blood circulation and cell oxygenation can have positive effects on the body’s ability to detox, and may also improve digestion (via Peninsula Hot Springs).
7. Weight Loss
Finally, research suggests that hot springs may help those who want to lose weight.
This is simply because the temperature of the water allows people to burn calories while they are sedentary, which is helpful to those with mobility issues. Keep in mind that this can be negated by increased calorie intake before or after soaking.
Hot spring soaking may also improve metabolic health by decreasing chronic inflammation and improving fasting glucose and insulin. However, authorities on the subject emphasize that hot springs should be used as part of a weight loss program, particularly for people who can’t exercise in the traditional way, rather than as a miracle cure for weight loss.
The effects on weight loss are subtle and should be used to complement other treatments only.