The Definitive Guide to Investing In a Health Resort Experience

We’re worlds away from the 19th century, when only a few health resorts dotted the country, and the main attraction was usually the hot or mineral springs nearby.

Nowadays, we’re not just "taking the waters." In health spas and resorts worldwide, people are taking yoga, nutrition classes, long outdoor hikes, organic juice fasts, something (a little scary-sounding) called colon hydrotherapy (a "specialty" at a spa in Turkey), body wraps, even Merlot wraps at a spa in France, and much more.

The Ultimate Guide to Health Resorts

A wellness vacation is the ideal time to adopt a healthier lifestyle. You're away from familiar triggers, and free to explore new healthy activities. Guests commonly say the experience changed their lives. In this article you'll get tips for planning your ultimate wellness vacation.

So how do you sort through the literally hundreds of health resorts now operating worldwide and find one that’s right for you? Hopefully, this guide will help.

First off, it’s important to understand how a health resort differs from a typical resort experience. At a typical resort, the focus is pleasure, pure and simple. Balmy breezes. Relaxing by the pool. A game on the golf course. You get the idea.

A health resort often combines pleasure and health. Along with luxurious amenities you’re often immersed in experiences, like classroom seminars and counseling, that can help you reflect on your life, and possibly launch a healthier, happier one.

To nail down the health resort experience that is best for you, it’s a good idea to ask yourself these 5 questions:

1. What are my goals?

Where do you want to be at the end of your health resort experience? What do you want to achieve?

Are your goals short-term? Are you interested, for example, in dropping 10 pounds for an upcoming wedding or reunion, and this is your one and only goal? If so, there are plenty of boot camp-style weight-loss resorts nationwide that will whip you into shape in exercise sessions from dawn till you drop. You may slip in a bit of relaxation, like a massage or two, but the focus is definitely sweat.

Or, are your goals long-term? Are you, for example, looking not only to shed the weight but learn new skills that can help you continue losing weight when you return home? If so, you’ll want to research resorts’ websites or phone them to see if they offer healthy-living educational curriculums.

Look, for instance, for classes like how to cook healthy foods, grocery shop for them, and order well in restaurants. Ask, too, about the exercise program. Does training involve cardio workouts and weights? Hiking through the deserts and mountains? Three-hour yoga classes? Is the approach fast and furious? The more sweat, the better? Or is training focused on real-world, long-term fitness – on what you’ll actually be able to do (and maybe even enjoy) when you return home?

Also, consider any emotional/behavioral challenges you may be dealing with. Have you just gotten over a messy divorce? Are you struggling with the recent death of a loved one? Are you a compulsive eater? A smoker? A nonstop worrier?

Think about what you might want to change about your emotional life, what might make you a happier, more fulfilled person. Then, see if the resorts you’re looking at have classes or individual counseling that mesh with your needs.

Finally, and most importantly: Are there major health issues you want to address? Diabetes? High blood pressure? A recent heart attack? Or are you taking multiple medications, and hoping that if you change your life and start living healthier, you’ll become less dependent on pills?

For any major health concern, do make sure you’re finding a health resort that has a strong physician presence, not just a doctor who shows up one or twice a week, but a full-time team of physicians located right on the resort’s premises. It’s really important. Close, careful medical monitoring is vital for your health and well-being.

2. What’s my budget for my health resort vacation?

Like hotel rates, health resort fees can vary tremendously, from about $2,000 to $10,000 for one week’s stay.

Trying to be economical?  The good news is, there are several ways to keep costs down. First, ask about seasonal fluctuations. Low-season rates can often be 30 to 40 percent less than high-season fees. Or look for packages that may contain many of the services you want, but at a reduced “special” rate.

Share a room with a friend or family member! Not only will you then be able to go on your journey with a member of your support system, but you’ll both get healthy together, while saving a substantial amount.

3. What should I watch out for when shopping for a health resort?

Be careful of hidden fees. Many resorts give you one price for a visit, say, $3,000 for a week. But when you arrive, you discover that that $3,000 covers just the basics: a room, meals, and a few exercise classes. All the other services you wanted to take advantage of, like private consultations with a physician or stress management workshops with a psychologist, are extra. Now, all of a sudden, the resort experience you planned on having is not $3000; it’s more like $4,500.

The best way to find out exactly what you’re getting – and spending – is to phone the resort and talk to a sales or registration coordinator. Don’t rely solely on the resort’s website. Explain to your coordinator exactly what you want in the way of classes and services, and ask him or her to tally up your fees. Better yet, if you live nearby the resort, or happen to be traveling nearby, make an appointment for a personal tour and talk.

4. What type of people do I want to be with while at a health resort?

You don’t realize how important this question is until you walk in the door of the health resort you’ve chosen and realize, egad, that everyone else is 20 years younger, or 20 years older, or 50 pounds thinner, or chubbier. Sure, diversity in life is important, but sometimes, especially in typical spa encounters like stripping down together in the sauna room, it’s nice to be with others you feel reasonably comfortable with.

And the sharing of common goals can enhance your entire experience because from that commonality strong friendships often grow. “We see it all the time at Pritikin,” smiles psychologist Dr. Coral Arvon, who directs the behavioral wellness programs at the Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami, Florida.

“I love watching it happen, especially among the men. They start out with typical guy talk. The NFL. The NBA.  But then, after a day or two, the conversation often slides to deeper things. Cholesterol levels. Triumphs over diabetes. Dreams for the future. Bonds form and friendships grow. And they last far beyond the week or two spent together at Pritikin. Our alumni stay in touch, helping each other live well.”

5. Is there scientific proof that the health resort works?

Health resorts often talk about their “science-based” approach and their “documented success” in helping people lose weight and achieve other health goals.

But very few resorts actually have documented proof.

Documented proof means that the results advertised by the resorts have been published in peer-reviewed medical journals. (“Peer-reviewed” means that a team of experts in the same scientific field has scrutinized the study and approved it for publication.) Examples of leading peer-reviewed journals include the New England Journal of Medicine, Circulation, Diabetes Care, and the Archives of Internal Medicine.

If you have health goals you want to achieve, like losing weight, lowering cholesterol, or reducing blood pressure, find out if the health resorts you’re looking at have peer-reviewed studies proving their success. The more studies, the better. You want to see repeated and consistent success.

You may even want to get the citations and read the articles. It’s relatively easy to go online to the websites of the medical journals and find abstracts (summaries), for free, of virtually all the studies published by the journals over the past two to three decades.

Why go through all this effort?

Because there’s nothing more important than your health. And certainly, you know that. It’s why you’re investing your time and money in a health resort experience.

We hope this article helps you find the best experience for you.

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