Benefits of Hot Water Therapy and Hot Tubs for the Nervous System
Among the many discoveries of the studies by the National Aquatics & Sports Medicine Institute, perhaps most interesting are those relating to the positive effects of hot tub therapy on the regulation and balance of the nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system, “the motherboard for human bioregulation” (Becker et al.), is comprised of 2 parts that affect and regulate numerous body functions including our moods, emotions, organ system function, and physical state. The two divisions of the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Each has an important function in keeping the body and mind in check and safe. Dysfunction in the form of too much influence by either system can have negative effects on our emotional, mental, and physical health.
The sympathetic nervous system controls our fight or flight reactions keeping us, essentially, on our toes and safe from harm. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our relaxation and repose responses. (Becker et al.) The body functions optimally when these two systems are in balance. Too much influence from the sympathetic nervous system can lead to harmful stress and several related physical, emotional, and mental problems. Too much influence from the parasympathetic side can lead to depression, obesity, and other related issues.
Studies performed by immersing subjects in 102° F water show that during warm water therapy sessions the influence of the sympathetic nervous system is diminished. This effect occurred in all individuals tested although the degree can vary somewhat according to age and other factors. This observed decrease in sympathetic dominance allows the parasympathetic nervous system to balance with the sympathetic and leads to a greater sense of relaxation, peacefulness, calm, and well-being amongst those tested.
Perhaps even more remarkable is that this balancing effect seems to last well after the individual leaves the water. It may indeed show that regular soaking in a hot tub can help an individual retain a balanced state of nervous system function, which leads to a greater sense of well-being throughout their daily activities, helping them to lead more balanced, happy, and productive lives.