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Natural hot springs, also called thermal springs, have been used for healing and wellness for centuries. The Romans built temples and towns around them, the Georgians loved thermal bathing and so do spa fans today. Here are some reasons why hot spring spas are good for you, and why you should put one on your travel itinerary.
The joy of natural hot springs
Is there anything as soothing as slipping into a pool of steaming water? Natural hot springs have a lot to offer wellness fans. But what’s behind our love for these mineral-rich springs and why are they better than simply soaking in a heated pool? Here’s a deeper look at why thermal springs are so good for us.
How are hot springs formed?
The core of our earth is hot. The lower down you go, the hotter. A natural hot spring occurs when water sinks into the earth, gets heated geothermally from magma (molten rock under the earth’s surface) and gets forced back up again. As the water travels through underground streams or rock, it can soak up minerals, which is what makes a hot springs spa so healthy. Usually. There are exceptions, but if you go to a hot springs resort, it’s more than likely that the water has been rigorously checked.
Why are hot springs healing?
Hot springs are healing because of their warm temperature, which soothes sore muscles and alleviates stress, and because of the minerals the water contains. Some of the healing minerals and salts hot springs can have are: calcium and magnesium salts, selenium, sulphur, lithium salts, zinc and iron. Because thermal water is heated, it can hold more dissolved salts and minerals than regular water.
What are the health benefits of a hot springs?
There are many debates about the benefits of hot springs. Generally places such as Europe believe more in the healing power of thermal springs and have more thermal spa resorts than we do here in North America. In fact, places such as the Czech Republic (one of my favourite spa destinations of all) fund spa stays for people with various illnesses. Yes, that’s right. Some countries understand and believe in the beneficial effects of hot spring spas so much, they pay for their citizens to go.
On the other hand, many people don’t believe in the healing power of thermal springs at all (and enjoy telling me ad nauseam). Whatever. You spa your way, which might not be to spa at all, and I’ll spa mine, which is to go as often as I can.
Here are just a few of the medical issues hot springs are said to help with:
- Skin infections: Sulphurous springs are said to be helpful with skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and rashes.
- Muscle and joint problems: From muscle aches to rheumatoid arthritis, hot springs are said to soothe and help heal.
- Circulation: Soaking in bicarbonate water is said to open peripheral blood vessels which improves circulation
- Stress relief: I don’t think I need to explain this one. Is there anything more relaxing than sinking into an outdoor hot springs pool? Especially if it naturally contains lithium?
- Detoxification: Soaking in hot springs promotes sweating, which helps rid the body of toxins. (People have argued with me over this, but I still believe it and I’ve met several spa doctors who do, too.)
Where are the best hot springs spas?
Oh, boy. That’s a tough one. There are fantastic hot spring destinations all over the world. Japan takes its hot springs (onsen) seriously and have beautiful soaking pools. The Canadian Rockies have gorgeous hot spring settings, but could go a lot further on boosting the ‘spa and wellness’ aspect of them, and could also up the luxury factor.
I enjoy visiting the various baths in Budapest. The reason I’m such a fan is that these places often combine grand historical architecture with gorgeous natural settings, state-of-the-art spa therapies, vast sauna complexes and, of course, beautiful hot spring pools.
My pet hot springs spa peeve
It really annoys me when spas call their pools ‘thermal springs’ or ‘hot springs’ when they’re not. Heated tap water is not a thermal spring. A thermal spring is heated by the earth’s own steam (so to speak) and comes out of the ground at a temperature higher than the average temperature of the place it’s coming up into.
What’s the difference between a thermal spring and a mineral spring?
A thermal spring is one that is naturally hot. Like thermal springs, mineral springs contains minerals, but are not necessarily naturally heated. Mineral springs can be fabulous places to visit, too. Marianske Lazne in the Czech Republic is one of the most healing spas I’ve ever been to, but its many mineral-rich springs are not naturally hot.
When should you not go to a thermal spa?
Consult your doctor before soaking in a hot springs if you’re pregnant or have certain health conditions such as high blood pressure or a heart condition. Don’t go in if you have open sores. Thermal spas and hot springs are more powerful than you might think.
Hopefully this article will whet your whistle for hot springs. To read more about spas and spa culture visit my spa and spa travel article. If you’re intimidated about going to a spa for the first time here’s how to spa.
Saunas: The sauna is a key part of a thermal hot springs experience but make sure to follow these important sauna safety rules. And as for sauna culture in Europe, you might want to check out my guide to German Sauna Etiquette.