The use of hot tubs and steam baths for health and wellness dates back thousands of years. Before you dip your toes into a hot tub, however, know what some of the pros and cons of using one are. And remember, everyone's body is different, so discuss your use of a hot tub with your doctor if you have any concerns.
Pro: Soak Away Your Stress
Hot water has traditionally been used as a therapeutic way to bring down your stress levels and relax after a busy, stressful day. In fact, the National Sleep Foundation recommends soaking in a hot tub — or even a plain, hot bath if you don't have access to a hot tub — as a way to relax, overcome anxiety and achieve better and deeper sleep. Researchers at Washington State University's National Aquatic & Sports Medicine Institute think it's because hot water immersion helps balance the subsystems of your autonomic nervous system.
Cons: Increased Risk of Heat Stress
A 2009 paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine included data analysis of 80,000 hot tub injuries from 1990 to 2007 and found that 10 percent of hot tub-related health problems and accidents were linked to excessive heat exposure. Check the temperature gauge before immersing yourself into a hot tub. Never get in if the temperature is above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless of the temperature, get out if you start to feel light headed, dizzy or uncomfortable. Everyone reacts differently to heat, so safe time limits for hot tub use will vary by individual. However, in general, children, pregnant women and people who have been drinking alcohol should avoid hot tubs or limit their exposure to just a few minutes at a time.
Pro: Reduced Pain and Inflammation
The heat and the buoyancy of the water in a hot tub offers several benefits to people who suffer from various injuries and pain, including lower back pain and arthritis. For example, the Arthritis Foundation reports that the heat helps minimize inflammation and swelling while boosting circulation, while the water helps reduce the gravitational pressure on sore limbs and joints.
Con: Potential Problems for the Circulatory System
Hot tubs improve circulation. While this may be beneficial for many people, it creates hazards for people with some pre-existing circulatory system health problems. The American Heart Association recommends that you stay away from hot tubs if your doctor has advised you to avoid exercise, since the effects of both on your circulation are similar. Likewise, people who suffer from blood pressure problems should not jump into a cold swimming pool after soaking in a hot tub, or vice versa. Doing so can spike your blood pressure.
Pro: Better Recovery from Sport-related Injuries and Muscle Problems
If you're experiencing sore or tight muscles after exercising, dipping into a hot tub after working out can help loosen sore or tight muscle tissues. For the best results, rub the tight muscles while you're in the hot tub. Similarly, if you're recovering from a sports-related injury, a hot tub can help. Soaking in hot water, starting three or four days after the initial injury, can improve healing. It may help by reducing muscle spasms, boosting your circulation and minimizing pain.
Con: Potential Infection Risks
Poorly maintained hot tubs are a prime area for bacterial growth. Never use a hot tub if you have open injuries, and avoid getting the hot tub water into your eyes or mouth. Additionally, stay out of the water if you notice strong smells coming out of the water, as a well-maintained hot tub should be odorless.
- AARP: Hydrotherapy
- National Sleep Foundation: Healthy Sleep Tips
- HealthLink BC: Residential Hot Tubs and Pools - Health and Safety Tips
- Arthritis Today: Warm Water Works Wonders on Pain
- SportsMD: Using Thermotherapy to Treat Sports Injuries
- New York Times Health: The Dangers of Taking a Dip in the Hot Tub
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Protect Yourself from Recreational Water Illnesses and Stay HOT!
- Athletic Business: Research Lends Support to Long-Held Notion that Warm-Water Immersion Does a Body Good
Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.