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Stress Less in a Swim Spa or Hot Tub

A study by the National Women’s Health Resource Center found that nine out of 10 adults have experienced serious stress, with four out of the 10 experiencing negative health affects as a result. By owning a swim spa or hot tub people can reduce stress and anxiety and achieve deep relaxation. Immersion in warm water raises the body temperature. This causes blood vessels to dilate, which improves circulation and creates the optimum environment in the body for relaxation.

Dr. Bruce Becker, previously the director of the National Aquatic & Sports Medicine Institute at Washington State University and now the medical director at VORTEQ by Cascade Wellness Technologies, Inc., has collected his conclusions in the online flipbook, Hot Water & Healthy Living, from NSPF. Becker says there are a number of positive health results from hot tub use.

“Immersion in warm or neutral water,” Becker says, “tends to decrease blood pressure and decrease the workload of the heart…by dilating blood vessels and reducing peripheral vascular resistance. By decreasing that resistance, it makes less work for the heart in circulating blood.”

Becker says warm-water immersion can also simultaneously permit circulation to tissues that are in the process of recovery or that need increased oxygen flow. This can increase blood flow inside the brain, too. This helps explain hot tub benefits on mental acuity, he says, improved cognitive function and claims of benefits for Alzheimer’s patients. Early studies indicate dementia patients function better — at least for a short period — after getting out of the water. “Whether those effects are long-term isn’t yet known,” Becker says, “but things happen to the central nervous system which create the overall effect of relaxation,” which is the key for numerous health benefits, he says.

Becker’s studies indicate regular hot tub use assists in the removal of, or radically diminishes, the stress trigger in our central nervous system. When this occurs, the speed at which your brain processes information increases along with brain connectivity, integrating functions across both sides of the brain. This can lead to potential improvement of creativity and memory.

It is famously alleged, for example, that Sir Winston Churchill dictated speeches, book manuscripts and correspondence to his secretary while he sat in a tub of warm water. Becker says he’s often speculated to what degree this, if at all, aided Churchill’s mental perception while facilitating the prime minister’s role in history.

We know hot tubs have a multitude of health benefits, but how do you carry the effects of stress reduction with you out of the water? Becker says the work in his lab focused on the relationship between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which comprise the autonomic nervous system. This is essentially the motherboard, he says, which regulates physiologic processes that happen at a subconscious level. “This includes regulation of heart rate, respiratory rate and digestion,” he says. “Almost everything that happens in your body without you thinking about it.”

Becker says the sympathetic system generates a stress response — a fight-or-flight reaction — that increases your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate. Early studies of war veterans indicate that many post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers used hot tubs. Preliminary findings indicate PTSD sufferers are calmer and exhibit fewer hair-trigger responses after hot tub therapy.

Becker says this is because warm water dominates our parasympathetic nervous system. “Consequently, exposure to warm water usually drops the heart rate, blood pressure, and potentially increases the kind of mental activity we commonly experience while being in a relaxed state,” he says.

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