Healthy through water. History and the present

Zdrowy dzięki wodzie

“The beginning of all things is water,” claimed the ancient philosopher Tales of Miletus. He had in mind water as the primordial cause of the existence not only of life, but of the entire cosmos. Never later has any thinker or scientist been able to make water more meaningful. However, it is worth remembering that in addition to its astrobiological or cultural significance, it is also characterized by health-promoting properties.

Ancient saying – healthy through water

The ancient expression sanus per aquam, or healthy through water, from which the well-known acronym SPA is derived, derives from ancient beliefs in the healing nature of hot springs. The modern era brought scientific discoveries confirming the beneficial effects of both hot and cold waters on the human body, proving that they help improve the overall psychophysical state of the human being. This should come as no surprise, since an adult human being consists of 60-70 percent. From the water. It accounts for approx. 80 percent. brain mass, 83 percent. blood, 75 percent. Muscle.

It is not true that we should all drink 2 liters of water every day, as this depends on our body weight. It is assumed that the healthiest conversion rate is about 20 ml of water for every kilogram of weight. That is, a person weighing 60 kg is recommended to drink 1.2 liters of water per day. As we age, the human body dries out. While the body of a two-year-old child consists of about 78 percent. of water, an elderly person’s body may have as little as 45 percent of it. Therefore, in order to maintain health and fitness, it is important to take care of proper hydration. We carefully select water for consumption. What about the one we have external contact with?

“Unhealthy” thanks to water

Historical records show that it was once feared to immerse the entire body in water because it was not known how deeply it penetrates through the skin into the body. It was believed that after such soaking, the pores remained open for some time, which gave the water an ambiguous, dangerous character – it was believed that diseases could enter the body in this way. That’s why in centuries past bathing was rare, and after a complete immersion, it was recommended to lie in bed and rest. In this way, the body was protected from weakening.

This approach to ablution was not associated with cleanliness and grooming understood in modern terms. In centuries past, purity was culturally anchored, among other things. in things: the linen materials the underwear was made of, in their form and color, and in the scents with which they were sprinkled.

Bath pool a place of social life

Initially, bathing was a festive act, associated with social life and even socializing. Bathhouses have been built for this purpose since ancient times. Georges Vigarello, in his book The History of Cleanliness and Dirt, explicitly states: “The history of baths meets another history – the times of fun and festivity, pleasure and games” (p. 42). These were places that were suspected of transgressing the rules of morality and fostering acts of promiscuity. It was not uncommon to question the legality of places with hot springs and public baths. This, of course, did not apply to European resorts such as Bath, Mariánské Lázně, Spa, Karlsbad, Baden-Baden, Évian or Karlovy Vary, where, in addition to external hydrotherapy, treatments involving regular drinking of therapeutic waters were used.

Nevertheless, despite the Old Polish and Enlightenment fashion of traveling to the spa salons of Europe, water was still an enigmatic liquid. And although the ancients already sought in it the primordial cause of life and called it the first, indivisible element of nature, it was not until the second half of the 18th century that a scientific understanding of what this substance was brought about.

Oxygen and hydrogen

In 1755. The Dijon Academy, as it does every year, has announced a competition for a scientific paper. This time the research question was the advantages of a simple water bath. This topic was already widely discussed at the time and brought a breakthrough in the history of water, thanks to the discovery of its chemical composition.

Hydrogen has been observed since the 16th century. By naturalists, who are half doctors, half alchemists. However, the first scientists to chemically recognize hydrogen as a separate substance and element were Henry Cavendish (1766) and the couple Antoine and Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier (1783). They conducted their research separately. In contrast, in parallel in the 1960s. i 70. 18th century. Joseph Priestley worked on the chemistry of gases and in 1775. discovered a “new kind of air,” namely oxygen. We owe this Polish name to the physician Jan Oczapowski, active in the early 19th century. Fortunately, it has perpetuated itself, displacing the earlier one, which was the acidorid.

However, returning to the history of oxygen and hydrogen, it is recognized that the Lavoisiers and Cavendish discovered in parallel that hydrogen with oxygen co-form water. And although it was Lavoisier who gave hydrogen the name hydrogenium, which meant “water-bearing,” in the history of science the designation of its composition is attributed to Henry Cavendish.

Therapeutic waters – the road to modern-day spas

By the 18th century. The beneficial effect of hydrotherapy meant that the disease symptoms disappeared. The main medical trend prevalent in Europe was Brownianism, started by John Brown. Health meant balance of the body. Its absence was indicative of a disorder and the need to find an adequate antidote: an overly asthenic body needed rousing, while a hyperactive one needed calming.

External and internal water treatments were recommended for both bodily ailments and psychosomatic ailments, including for melancholy, which today would probably be closer not to aristocratic boredom, but to diagnosed depressive conditions. Thus, warm water relaxed and softened all parts of the body, also by penetrating inward; lukewarm water eased fevers, soothed nerves and malaise; while cold water strengthened muscles, added vigor and vigor, and built immunity.

The turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, brought the development of homeopathy (thanks to Samuel Hahnemann) and mesmerism (thanks to Franz Mesmer). And it was only the evolution in chemistry over the course of the 19th century that made it possible to move beyond symptomatic treatment. Thanks to this, water ceased to be a mysterious antidote to the body’s imbalances and became a subject of research. It was then that resorts, spas, rivers or urban habitats began to determine its chemical healing properties. The development of knowledge about what water is became the direct cause of the boom of spas in the late 19th century.

Unfortunately, the next century, and especially the socialist era, although it brought a proliferation of spa networks, caused them to be equated with sanatoriums for pensioners. It was not until the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. This is the time to return to the exclusive form of using therapeutic and thermal waters.

Healthy through water – healing therapies

Nowadays, the scope of spa tourism and the therapeutic impact of water has gone far beyond hydrotherapy or balneology and also includes the positive impact of spa architecture on the human psyche. Thus, water, thanks to its health-promoting properties, has once again become a tool for therapeutic therapies, both in medical and leisure forms. This is one of the aspects why taking care of the quality of water resources should be important for any person with the physical and mental well-being of himself, his loved ones, as well as society and humanity at heart.


In the article, I used, among others. From the works:

[1] Ball Ph.,H2O. A biography of Water, London 2000.

[2] NFZ, Drink more water: https://pacjent.gov.pl/aktualnosc/pij-wiecej-wody (opined 22.07.2022).

[3] Malinowski M., SPA, in Foreign Polish – https://obcyjezykpolski.pl/spa/.

[4] National Geological Institute: Thermal waters – https://www.pgi.gov.pl/geotermia/przydatne/wody-lecznicze.html#lecznicze-wody-termalne.

[5] Spa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQbwxaCIHH8 (dir. E. Trzcionka, 2020).

[6] Vigarello G., History of cleanliness and dirt, transl. B. Szwarcman-Czarnota, Warsaw 2012.

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