Close your eyes for a moment and imagine stepping into a very warm, natural body of water surrounded by birdsong and refreshing outside air. Are you feeling relaxed yet? This is just one of the many potential wellness benefits of bathing in a hot spring.
Immersion in a natural hot spring is also known as hot potting, balneotherapy in a therapeutic and complementary health context, hydrothermal therapy and immersion therapy.
These bodies of water can be found in a variety of settings, from naturally occurring outdoors to discharged into pools at spas and wellness resorts.
Because the water originates deep within the earth’s interior, it accumulates minerals on its way to the surface, explains Marcus Coplin, ND, primary care naturopathic physician and director of hydrothermal medicine at the Balneology Association of North America.
The result? Water rich in minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sulfur that may provide health benefits. Sometimes these waters come to the surface naturally heated; Other times, this mineral-rich water is cold and then artificially heated, according to the Balneology Association of North America.
Each hot spring offers a unique composition of minerals. “However, there are benefits to soaking in warm or hot water, regardless of the mineral content,” says Krista Ingerick, licensed massage therapist and spa operations manager at The Springs Spa, a wellness center that provides integrative therapies for Clifton Springs Hospital and Clinic in New York . “In general, most people enjoy soaking for the relaxing and pain-relieving effects, so arriving with the mindset that you’re ready to adjust to the outside world and the stresses of everyday life is the first step.”
Possible wellness benefits of relaxing in hot springs
Here are some other potential benefits of hot potting.
1. May Provide Potential Pain Relief
“The warmth of the water helps relax muscles and can help relieve pain,” says Ingerick. “Essentially, this therapy can act as a full-body immersion heat wrap.” Research suggests that people with arthritis and other painful conditions have found that soaking offers some pain relief. In a study published in 2021 in inquiry which studied nearly 1,300 people with joint or muscle pain, including rheumatoid arthritis, 83 percent said bathing in a hot spring provided relief from their symptoms until the end of the bath.
Nonetheless, it is important to understand the role of hot springs within the overall conventional medical treatment of disease and adjust expectations as needed. In a study published in 2020 in Journal of the Environment and Public Health, many participants with musculoskeletal disorders had hoped that the soak would bring about a permanent cure, which was not the case. Others also noted that they needed to do this regularly as the pain-relieving effects were only temporary.
In fact, this can become part of a treatment plan. “One thing I do want to warn is that I don’t want it to sound like if you have arthritis you can bathe in hot springs and be fine. Although it is effective [as a complementary therapy for some people]part of being effective is proper prescription medication use and doctor monitoring,” says Coplin.
2. May alleviate certain skin conditions
Minerals like sulfur and magnesium have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and these and other minerals may be useful in treating some skin conditions, Ingerick says. A review published in September 2020 in the Journal of Clinical Medicine concluded that soaking in warm, mineral-rich water may benefit those suffering from psoriasis or eczema the most, with some benefits for itchy skin, acne, and seborrheic dermatitis, or an itchy, flaky scalp, thanks to the theorized anti-inflammatory effects of the waters.
3. Can help you relax
Relaxation is a well-known potential benefit of hot potting. “The simple experience of lying down in a warm bath to relax can have profound effects by shutting down our fight-or-flight stress response and allowing our body time to heal,” says Ingerick. She adds that relaxation is a good antidote to fatigue and can help improve resilience in the face of stress. It can also play a role in the environment, such as in nature or a spa, which further aids in the relaxing effects of hot potting.
4. May support weight loss
Research suggests that the warmth of a bath can increase your metabolism (which is partly the rate at which your body burns calories), lower inflammatory markers, and help regulate your stress response, Coplin says.
A study published in 2017 temperature studied 14 men and found that those sitting in a water bath burned an additional 61 calories per hour compared to resting out of the water. (Exercise burned 556 calories per hour compared to rest, making it more efficient than either sitting still or soaking.)
Another study published in December 2018 in the Journal of Applied Physiology, than eight overweight, sedentary men. Two weeks of regular hot water immersion sessions impacted inflammatory markers, which may help reduce chronic inflammation and improve fasting glucose and insulin, improving metabolic health to support weight loss. The authors found that hot water immersion can be an effective add-on therapy for improving metabolic health in people who cannot exercise. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, federal guidelines indicate that exercises like walking can be safe for almost everyone, and the benefits generally outweigh the risks.
The important thing about these results is that a hot spring bath doesn’t do everything. “While soaking in hot springs can be a nice part of an overall weight loss program, it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll soak and lose 20 pounds. This is something you would do regularly in addition to a mindfulness-based diet and exercise program,” says Coplin, and in collaboration with your primary health care provider under the guidance of your doctor.
5. May Offer Cardiovascular Benefits
One of the most notable things that affects your body is the warmth of the water, which can improve blood and lymphatic system fluid circulation, which helps remove waste from the body, Coplin says. A study published in September 2016 in The Journal of Physiology of 20 sedentary young adults found that hot water therapy improved circulation in a manner similar to exercise, and those who attended four or five sessions over eight weeks improved blood vessel dilation, reduced arterial stiffness and improved blood pressure a way that could potentially benefit heart health.
One important thing to keep in mind when considering using hot potting as a complementary therapy for any health condition: hot soaking is not a substitute for routine conventional care. Discuss your goals for treatment and how immersion therapy fits into those goals with your doctor, according to the Balneology Association of North America.
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