By Mecca Ray-Rouse

Hot springs offer a great end to a hike, a chance to get away from the city, and an opportunity to simply warm up, but that’s just the beginning. For centuries, people have used hot springs as a natural way to improve circulation, help with muscle or joint pain, treat skin issues, and reduce stress.

March and April can still be dreary in Oregon: lots of rain and overcast skies. While many people dip in the hot springs to simply stay warm, the hot water is also helping the body. A good soak can increase your body temperature, which improves blood circulation, benefitting all of your organs.

The ancient practice of using natural mineral water to treat or cure ailments and ease physical pain, or “taking the waters,” is making a comeback in the 21st century. Balneology (the study of therapeutic bathing and medicinal springs) teaches that both the mineral composition and the temperature of the hot spring waters have proven effective in their healing qualities.

Though each spring will vary in its mineral profile, most Oregon hot springs contain sulfur, silica, calcium, and boron, among other elements that play an important part in your overall health. Most of these hot springs are located in the forests of Oregon, with a short hike from the trailhead to the pools.

The sulfur and heat from the hot springs can also help relax strained muscles and soothe arthritis or chronic joint pain. Sulfur is the third-most-abundant mineral in the human body, mostly concentrated in the muscles, skin, and bones. It helps your body cleanse deeply, removing toxins and keeping you healthy at the cellular level. Sulfur can be used to treat a dry scalp, eczema, and psoriasis as well.

Submerging yourself into a soothing hot spring also allows your skin to absorb rejuvenating minerals. Silica has been a go-to supplement for hair, skin, and nails, playing a vital role in keeping skin elastic and collagen healthy. Boron can help build muscle and increase brain activity. Magnesium converts blood sugar to energy, while potassium helps normalize heart rhythms and reduces high blood pressure by eliminating body toxins.

Stress can affect all aspects of your life, including your emotions, behaviors, mental ability, and physical well-being; no part of the body is immune. Bathing in a steamy pool, surrounded by nature, is the epitome of relaxation. It also offers a vital health benefit: Relaxing and reducing the stress in your body cuts down on irritability, anger, and impatience; improves memory, focus, and other brain functions; and leaves you feeling more resilient and energized. Relaxation, combined with the heat and buoyancy from the mineral water, can also help improve sleeping patterns.

To get the most out of your soak, make sure you are utilizing the hot springs correctly and not overdoing it. Some minerals could potentially irritate your skin, especially if you have cuts or open sores. Make sure you just soak, not swim; accidentally swallowing the water could be risky to your health.

With more than 40 hot springs in Oregon, there’s almost one for every weekend of the year. Grab your swimsuit (or don’t, as many of these are clothing-optional) and your best friends and go experience the benefits of these natural wonders.