Surely, most of us already know (or half-know) that a hot and steamy bath has a bunch of health benefits, including better blood circulation, stress reduction, and a better night’s sleep. However, we rarely take the time to soak in a hot tub more than once a week, preferring showers instead. The Japanese have a totally unique bathing culture – not only do they take a bath every single day, but they also enjoy traveling hours just to go into onsen, which are natural hot spring resorts. They consider that these natural sources of hot water have even more health benefits than your regular bath, and we’re here to introduce you to some of them.
1. Improved blood flow
Without getting too scientific here, you should know that naturally mineralized water has about 5x the beneficial effects of regular hot water when it comes to your metabolism and circulatory system. As you enter an onsen, the temperature of the water (usually between 38°C and 40°C) causes your capillaries to dilate and promotes a faster and healthier blood flow. In the long run, that also helps accelerate your metabolism – which can be a great help when you’re trying to get in shape (but don’t forget about a healthy diet and exercise and just stay in an onsen all day – it’s hardly going to help.)
2. Anti-aging properties
Time for a crash biology course! The process of aging is mostly caused by the oxidation of skin cell membrane, which can be triggered by a number of factors. Constant exposure to polluted air, cigarette smoke, UV rays, and even internal causes, such as an unhealthy diet, lead to this oxidation process. Luckily, natural hot spring waters are known to have antioxidant properties, which help rejuvenate your skin and preserve that fresh and youthful look.
3. Stress relief
You’d think nothing can be better than a regular hot bath when it comes to relieving stress. The Japanese beg to differ, and they claim that a 10-minute soak in an onsen can help you wash away the stress you’ve accumulated for several months. The belief comes from traditional Chinese medicine, which considered that all illnesses, including psychological distress, come from an energy drain or blockage in the human body. Hot onsen baths would encourage the flow of energy, thus having a healing effect on the person’s body and mind. Now, whether you believe in traditional medicine or not is completely up to you – but you can’t deny that it does have some incredible relaxing effects.
4. Warming you up!
As you may or may not know, there are onsen just about anywhere in Japan, even in the northernmost parts of Hokkaido. And, mind you, none of them close for the winter – not even those who have outdoor baths. Japanese people swear by hot baths even in the dead of winter and claim that soaking in an onsen during the cold season is a great way of strengthening your immune system. Not only that – they’re a great way to warm up (and keep you warm all throughout the night!) after a chilly day out in town.
5. Muscle pain soothing
If you’ve just returned from a steamy hike on Mt Fuji or the week you’ve spent strolling through Tokyo has left your legs a bit upset, a day spent at a hot spring resort is the perfect remedy! For effective muscle pain soothing, you might want to spend at least 10 minutes in the onsen. However, not everyone can handle such long exposure to the hot water – and for those of you who can’t, we recommend looking for a resort that offers foot bath procedures. They literally have a smaller basin of water you can soak your tired ol’ feet in for as long as you want!
6. Concentration improvement
We, Westerners, consider that a cold shower is the best way to rejuvenate our mind and body in the morning. The Japanese, on the other hand, would swear by a hot bath. A quick soak in really hot water (around 42°C) is said to improve our ability to concentrate and work throughout the day. It also energizes your body by stimulating the blood flow. You’ll only have to make sure you don’t go back to sleep in the warm bathtub – it can be dangerous!
Bottom line is: although Japanese onsen can be intimidating for foreigners, they do have a bunch of health benefits that make the experience worth a couple of stares. Not only does it help relieve physical pain and tension, but it also does wonders for your mind – washing away the stress and improving your ability to focus and work.
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