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Fitness Vacations, With a Twist

From cruises that emphasize exercise over eating to resorts with complete medical evaluations, more Americans are using their vacations to get healthy.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD

Vacations, that well-deserved time off to escape the everyday stresses of life, used to mean heading to some tropical paradise for much-needed R&R -- rum and relaxation.

But these days, even advertisements for that most decadent recess -- a Caribbean cruise -- show nary an endless buffet or semi-drunk passenger snoozing in a plastic lounge chair. Instead, the trip to Cozumel includes on-board rock climbing, ice skating, and aerobics classes to pump the heart rate along with excitement. And once there, the Mayan ruins have been rewritten to include Mom in a step class.

These days, the hot getaway trend is health vacations -- with Pilates replacing pina coladas and doctors serving as tour guides.

"It makes sense, because as baby boomers get older, they want to take better care of themselves," says Harley Mayersohn, spokesman for Canyon Ranch Health Resorts, the granddaddy of health spas since opening in 1979. "We're talking about a demographic that includes some 50 million Americans, and since the average age of our visitor is 46, we're right in that sweet spot."

No Shortage of Customers

Business is booming.

One reason is because it's these health-conscious, stress-ridden boomers who take nearly half of all vacations, according to Mike Pina, of the Travel Industry Association of America, a trade group representing hotels, airlines, and other vacation providers.

"People want to be more active, and what we have discovered is that they are looking for vacations that are an extension of this healthy lifestyle," he tells WebMD. "If they are working out, they don't want to lose that momentum when they're traveling, so they pick vacations where they can continue doing it. They want their vacations to include health and wellness, and it's a trend we've seen for several years."

But increasingly, there is more to achieving this wellness than just doing laps around the ship's running track. People are using their vacations to specifically get healthy.

"What we're seeing at Canyon Ranch is what we've always seen, but more of it -- people looking to be healthier," Mayersohn says. "People come here for a wide variety of conditions, but for many, they fall into the primary bucket of stress. We know we can't make stressors go away, but we can beef up our resistance to better deal with them. And for us, that's more than just with exercise -- it's a complete mind-body experience. To maintain healthy or deal with a specific medical problem, you cannot neglect the nutrition or behavioral aspect."

So at his Tucson spa, the weeklong vacations start off with a consultation with a doctor. "And with us, it's a complete one-hour evaluation, not the typical seven minute doctor's visit," he says. "Then, vacationers see a nutritionist. Then, an exercise physiologist. In the evening, they get a massage. And what better environment to get all this expert health and medical advice than a luxurious spa?"

In fact, Mayersohn says that the fastest-growing draw of his resort -- long known for its endless offerings of exercise, wellness-oriented lectures, and healthy food -- is its medical practice. "It's really taken off," he says. "People are vacationing here specifically to see our doctors, often for specific treatment."

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