Reducing Stress for Humans and Other Living Things

A monkey relaxes in a hot spring in Japan

Reducing Stress for Humans and Other Living Things

Science explains health benefits of hot spring soaking.

Scientific research is revealing more and more connections between stress and damage to mental, emotional and physiological well-being. The well-known elevation of levels of glucocorticoid hormones is being linked to cognitive and mood disorders as well as such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s when the stress is prolonged, according to a report by Sheela Vyas and others in the journal Neural Plasticity.

The study, “Chronic Stress and Glucocorticoids: From Neuronal Plasticity to Neurodegeneration,” describes the hormones’ role in a complex interaction of the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands in response to fear or injury.

At the same time, researchers have found that hot spring soaking, by relieving stress, reduces the levels of glucocorticoids. Scientists studied a troop of female macaques in mountainous northern Japan, where cold temperatures elevate stress. So many macaques had discovered the advantages a hotel hot tub in the early 1960s that the community of Nagano built a park with hot spring pools just for them— now a favorite tourist destination.

A study led by Rafaela S. C. Takeshita of Kyoto University discovered that the macaques’ glucocorticoid levels were reduced after soaking in the water. Also, the researchers found that the available hot spring was used most by the troop’s dominant females, whose increased aggression in winter also elevates their hormone levels. The report, “Beneficial effect of hot spring bathing on stress levels in Japanese macaques,” was published in the journal Primates.

Takeshita herself took up hot spring soaking when she was conducting the study (in a pool for people). Stress relief is good humans, she discovered. Check out the story and video, better yet visit Iron Mountain Hot Springs to relax, reduce stress and soak in all the healing benefits.

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Gene Stowe

Gene Stowe was a reporter for The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer for 13 years and head of the writing program at Trinity School at Greenlawn, a four-time U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School in South Bend, Ind., for 10 years before he became a full-time freelance writer in 2008. His first book, Inherit the Land: Jim Crow Meets Miss Maggie’s Will, was published in 2006. He lives in Monroe, N.C.