Why We Say "Ahhh"

Photo of Kirstin Pires Everyone knows that it feels great to be in water - whether it's the soothing pulse of a massage jet, the relaxing warmth of a hot tub or the feeling of grace and power you get when you glide through the water at the beginning of a swim. But have you ever wondered why?

Every answer seems to lead to another question: "It relaxes me." Why does it relax me? Or, "It's soothing." Why is water soothing? I'm sure that readers understand it's something I think about a lot. I returned from the World Aquatic Health Conference (Oct. 2-4, in Cincinnati) thinking about it even more than I usually do.

One of the most intriguing presentations was by Drs. Bruce Becker and Kasee Hildenbrand of the Aquatic Research Lab at Washington State University. We've told you about Dr. Becker and his work in previous issues of AQUA, and I'm sure you'll be hearing a lot more about his research in the years to come. Drs. Becker and Hildenbrand presented preliminary results from research funded by this magazine and many other industry members last year. In layman's terms, the goal of the project is to describe the physiological changes that produce that "Ahhhh" sensation when you slip into a bubbling hot tub.

With an emphasis that the results are preliminary and there's much more data to analyze, some of the more interesting findings are:

  • Warm-water immersion seems to have a significant effect on the autonomic nervous system.
  • That effect seems to enhance the balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic components of the system; likely one of the major changes that create the "Ahhh."
  • Changes were consistent across all subjects tested.
  • Heart rate rose during warm-water immersion, but not during cool or neutral immersion.
  • Peripheral circulation was very significantly enhanced during both the neutral- and warm-water immersions. This effect was far greater than could be explained by the rise in heart rate.

I'd love to tell you more about the research, but I'm almost late for my swimming workout! Stay tuned to AQUA for more good science news.

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