Unexpected Health Benefits of Hot Springs and Mineral Baths

In Japan, bathing in natural hot springs is a valuable pastime with thousands of years of tradition, and I visited several during my stay. This experience opened my eyes (and pores) to the world of positive emotions, many of which (but not all) are supported by a lot of studies.

Confession: Until my recent visit to Japan, I had never bathed. This is because I am taking a shower . My Japanese friends, on the other hand, grew up making daily bathing and hot springs (commonly called onsen in Japanese) a must, a time to relax and reflect. The rest of us also kind of instinctively feel that baths – and more broadly hot springs – can be good for the mind and body, but to what extent?

First, hot springs as medicine are still an area of ​​research.

For the Japanese, hot springs are more than just “jacuzzis” – they are valuable for relaxation, health and more. Of course, it’s not just about the Japanese. Hot springs, onsen, mineral baths, spa therapy – whatever you call them – have a rich history and are prized in many parts of the world.

This is due to the fact that hot springs have a number of medicinal properties. According to folklore, bathing in hot springs improves blood flow, circulation, metabolism and the absorption of essential minerals. Sounds awesome so far, but wait – that’s not all! A popular hot spring poster I visited in Noboribetsu, Hokkaido that I asked for translation said their water could help “treat chronic digestive diseases, constipation, diabetes, gout and liver disease.”

Okay, all of this may sound like voodoo magic, but many scientists from Japan, Europe, the Middle East and other countries have long been studyingbalneology (or balneotherapy), which is a “cure for diseases by bathing” and usually in waters containing minerals. … This area of ​​medicine is not yet very well known and studied, but continues to be an interesting area of ​​research for people who would like more reasons to make themselves comfortable in some of the hot springs. Balneology, especially in Japan and Europe, has been used as a natural medicine and preventive therapy for centuries.

One well-known example is the purported healing waters of theDead Sea , where researchers found a positive correlation (though not established causal relationship) between treatment using Dead Sea water and tangible improvement in skin condition and arthritis . Other health benefits of hot springs include various forms of relief for arthritis, fibromyalgia , skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, and high blood pressure.

In the meantime, you probably won’t hear “splashing in hot springs” as part of your doctor’s prescribed treatment, as the body of research on the subject seems to echo this particular quote from this article’s authors in The Journal of Epidemiology. : “The effectiveness of balneotherapy in treating disease or improving health remains unclear.”

But that hasn’t stopped people from enjoying their thermal baths and hot springs for thousands of years.

What do minerals in water do?

Since many hot springs contain sulfur, prepare yourself to constantly get the good smells of hydrogen sulfide , the jerk responsible for the rotten egg smell (don’t worry, you’ll kind of learn to love it). There can be many other minerals in the water as well. Typically, you will find calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, zinc – just to name a few.

When dissolved in heated water, these minerals are believed to provide some but mostly unproven health benefits. It is currently not known exactly how and if you will get more of these minerals into your body simply by bathing in them. There are many factors that can affect absorption through the skin. Under normal conditions, the outer layer of our skin is mainly made up of dead skin, really well protected from any things , especially in the water. Otherwise, we would be in hot water (sorry for the pun) every time we would swim in the ocean.

Some speculate that sweating, opening pores and moisturizing the skin with hot springs may increase absorption, and it is possible that something may happen, at least on the skin’s surface. Of course, there are reports of people who have experienced some relief from skin conditions such as reduced flaking and redness. Early German research suggests it might be the effect of magnesium; still others, paying particular attention to the waters of the Dead Sea , attribute this to the exceptionally high salt content and mineral profile.

One particular Japanese hot spring I visited seemed to have figured these things out already, as each of the seven different pools had a different mineral concentration and composition for different health-related purposes . The huge selection included a pool of sodium, calcium and chloride for youthful skin; calcium-magnesium pool, which helps with allergies and inflammations; a pool containing sulfur and iron, which they proclaimed a “universal panacea”, and much more. (You were even asked to drink their hot springs from a special fountain, although you usually should not do this,otherwise you would not mind swallowing harmful critters ).

However, the type of hot spring did not matter to me as I still could not read Japanese signs. I just walked where curiosity took me and stayed when my body shouted joyfully, “Damn it, yes!” And I believe that this is the whole point.

“Magic”, probably in the water itself

Be that as it may, the hot springs still seem like heaven. Most of the benefits of hot springs are due to the properties of the water itself, as well as the heat.

As you so cleverly guessed, hot springs are usually quite hot, usually around 37 degrees Celsius (or 100 degrees Fahrenheit) or more. Temperatures in each of the pools I dipped into also ranged from 37 to 42 degrees Celsius, with the idea that people would go into each pool and gradually immerse their bodies in baths of increasingly hotter temperatures.

This fever, although sometimes intense, can help relieve pain. As this meta-analysis of research published in the North American Journal of American Science shows, it works like this: Heat, together with water pressure, dulls our perception of pain by blocking pain receptors in our bodies. In addition, the concentration of minerals and hot water can make you feel “floating”, which positively affects your joints and muscles, working together to help you feel good and more importantly, relax.

Most of us have confirmed this, at least empirically: our sore joints and loose muscles from hard training or just life in general tend to feel alive again after a hot bath. A review in rheumatology has shown that spa therapy and balneotherapy can help relieve lower back pain, especially at higher temperatures. If you really want to get the most out of your soak, Paul Ingram of PainScience.com suggests combining a little self-massage and light stretching to feel great.

One important precaution, however, is that immersion in hot water can lead to a rise in body temperature and loss of water due to sweat (although you won’t notice this easily when you’re already wet). After a while, you may feel dizzy and / or dehydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of water during and after (as we don’t always forget to do this beforehand). I found my limit to be about 15 minutes of continuous soaking before the bath gets too big for me.

Seize Potential Benefits, Stay For Stress Relief

The thermal benefits go beyond pain relief and pain relief. Researchers in Japan found that soaking subjects with chronic heart failure in hot springs actually reduced blood pressure and relieved their symptoms. This is a rather radical (and small) study, but there are other examples where the thermal and mechanical properties of hot springs can help the body.

According to this study , published in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education , many of the purported benefits are positive for the relaxation you experience in the first place. In other words, when you relax, you are doing good things for yourself.

When you sit in hot springs, your blood pressure drops, your circulation improves, and your metabolism speeds up slightly. You may feel a little funny at first too, but eventually you get used to the temperature and everything in the world will be fine.

What’s more, because you can truly relax, you reduce anxiety and stress and can achieve tangible physiological benefits in everything. We all know that stress – the type of stress that keeps you awake at night and worsens your quality of life – is bad news for our long-term existence ; and the researchers responsible for this study at Advances in Preventive Medicine suggest hot springs are effective in reducing stress and improving things like sleep quality and appetite.

Most of us probably don’t need a lot of persuasion to get used to hot springs if they’re comfortable, but it’s good to know that hot springs are great for relieving stress.

Hot springs as part of a healthy lifestyle

We don’t get super strong or healthy from one workout, and we can’t suddenly turn back the years of eating shit with a single fruit. So it’s probably safe to say that the real benefits of hot springs come from habitual use as part of a holistic approach to health.

People enjoy hot springs for a variety of reasons besides health and stress relief. During my time in Japan, I learned that baths and hot springs are considered an everyday, sometimes common thing, especially if you go to hot springs or public baths. It is normal (and inevitable) for strangers to see each other naked, but it is even more normal for them to use these public spaces as gathering places for families, friends and communities to have a good time together.

For most of us, though, going to the hot springs on a regular basis is probably not comfortable and unrealistic, but every time you can relax and relieve stress – perhaps being alone with Mr. Rubber Ducky in a hot bubble bath – can work wonders for you. body and mind.

In the end, this was what I had hoped for when visiting the hot springs. At the time, I was not aware of all the (specific) purported benefits and did not expect a complete recovery from eczema. I just knew I wanted to relax and experience firsthand what I saw in those photographs of snow monkeys blissfully relaxing in hot springs.

This is exactly what I did.


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