Whether it’s a sweaty workout or an intense day at work that has your muscles in a knot, a wellness treatment like a massage or a trip to the sauna can sound like alluring medicine.
But not all spa treatments are created equal. Some of the oldest, simplest, and cheapest regimens offer the best results, while many of the newer and pricier treatments don’t appear to live up to their claims.
Find out which wellness therapies, from cryotherapy sessions to a trip to the local steam room, will do your body good — and which ones aren’t worth your money.
While bathing in Epsom salts might be useless, there is real research -- including a small recent study -- to suggest that plain old warm baths have beneficial effects on the body, some of which are surprisingly similar to exercise.
Those effects may include an overall boost in metabolic health -- measured by the study participants' ability to control their blood sugar before and after bathing -- and an anti-inflammatory response that's similar to what you get after a workout.
Submerging your body in a bucket of ice was all the rage for some time, with athletes claiming it could do everything from speeding up workout recovery to improving muscle tone.
Studies suggest the chilling experience doesn't do a while lot for performance. One study, for example, showed that athletes who did ice baths after three months of strength training experienced less swelling and soreness but also made smaller gains in their muscle mass and strength. Another recent study that compared athletes who bathed in ice with those who took a dip in lukewarm water suggested that ice baths didn't help much with inflammation -- i.e. swelling -- at all.
It's widely believed that sitting in a hot, dry sauna is a great way to 'sweat out' toxins from the body.
While you'll certainly sweat, the stuff that comes out of your pores isn't actually made up of toxins. Substances like alcohol, aluminium, and mercury, for example, get filtered out and removed from your body by your liver and kidneys.
There are some science-backed benefits to saunas, however, which range from increased circulation (as a result of the elevated heart rate and widened blood vessels that accompany exposure to intense heat) to reduced muscle soreness and reduced joint pain.
Epsom salts, or magnesium sulfate, allegedly sooth sore muscles by seeping into your pores in a warm bath. The idea is that the magnesium -- which is rumoured to help with cramps and is often advertised as a helpful supplement -- sinks into the muscles and helps with relaxation and workout recovery.
The science doesn't support this, however. Not only do experts say the magnesium in Epsom salts doesn't do a very good job of getting into your muscles in a bath, there's little evidence to support even ingesting a magnesium supplement for muscle soreness or athletic performance.
After a sweaty workout or an intense day at work, tight muscles can almost feel like they're begging for a massage.
Some studies suggest the treatments can have mild to moderate benefits, but most large trials conclude that the science supporting any long-term benefits of massage remains inconclusive. A large recent trial of marathon runners, for example, found that those who received 20 minute postrace massages experienced some immediate subjective benefits including reduced pain and soreness, but ultimately concluded that 'there is no evidence that such treatments provide extended subjective or functional benefits of clinical importance.'
World-class athlete LeBron James and actress Demi Moore are self-identified fans of cryotherapy, which involves standing nearly naked for several minutes in a chamber filled with super-cooled air. The alleged benefits of the -290-degree Fahrenheit chamber include pain relief and improved sleep and athletic performance.
Under frigid temperatures, your body redirects blood flow to your core to prevent you from freezing to death, restricting circulation in the arms and legs and potentially alleviating inflammation and the pain that goes with it.
However, the research is not clear on whether cryotherapy is any better for athletes or sufferers of inflammation than just your basic ice treatment -- and most centres that offer it don't require any kind of federal oversight -- so for now, it's best to skip it.
Much like saunas, steam rooms have been heralded as excellent places to cleanse your body of its inner toxins.
That isn't how toxin removal actually works, but steam rooms do have some other benefits, such as reducing a phenomenon many athletes experience after training called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). One recent study suggested that the kind of moist heat you encounter in a steam room was actually better for soothing sore muscles than the dry heat of a sauna.
People swear by cold showers as a natural mood boost.
While the studies of using a frigid rinse-off to improve mood are mostly theoretical, they do suggest that the occasional cold-water spritz might provide some relief from a case of the everyday blues. The idea is that exposure to cold helps activate the body's sympathetic nervous system, raising the level of hormones linked with feelings of well-being. Plus, a cold shower is free and can't hurt -- so feel free to give it a shot.
Many spas charge a premium to slather wild ingredients that range from fruit extracts to herbal ointments on your face, claiming these will nourish your skin, tighten your pores, and leave you looking younger and more refreshed.
A group of dermatologists told Bustle that the most important thing to remember about a mask is that so long as it contains ingredients that would nourish your skin if they were present in a moisturizer or a balm, they will probably have some benefit. Then again, you could also just use those (ostensibly cheaper) ingredients -- such as a lotion or a cream -- instead.
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