I was asked this question by an overworked, overstressed lawyer friend recently.
My answer is “it depends”.
I’m something of a “lay-expert” when it comes to health retreats. I have been to more than I can count over the last 20 years, in Australia and overseas, from basic to ultra-luxurious.
What’s great about health retreats?
Well, firstly, it’s a holiday.
Recent research by travel company Expedia found that many of us don’t take advantage of our annual leave entitlements each year. And that’s not a good thing. Work-associated burnout is at pandemic levels among professionals, and is associated with a number of serious health issues including heart disease, mental health issues, type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal issues, and even premature death. And taking a holiday when you need it can be a protective health factor. “Detatching from work” (the technical term used in the scientific literature) is considered an essential protective factor against burnout and its associated adverse health impacts. And taking time off work, whether for a few days or a few weeks, can be protective of our health, and particularly the health of our hearts. And the more relaxing the vacation, the better the health benefits.
It shines a spotlight on our wellbeing
In our daily lives, it’s all too easy to put work, family and the thousand-and-one things on our To-Do list ahead of the things we need to do to be healthy and happy. So in my book, anything that helps to remind us to put our health and wellbeing front-and-centre is a very good thing.
It’s a controlled environment
You don’t need to worry about food shopping or cooking, or making decisions about whether or when to exercise. And the temptations of sugary, salty snacks, booze and cigarettes are off the table.
An opportunity to build new, healthy habits
A health retreat vacation can help you circuit-break unhealthy habits like salty or sugary snacks, smoking or opening a bottle of wine in the evening. And help you build healthy new habits like early morning exercise, meditation and getting to bed at a sensible hour.
What’s not so great about health retreats?
Depending on where you choose, the daily rate can range from $400 to $1200 per night. Take a surf around a couple of booking sites to see what sort of amazing accommodation you can get for these prices. And the costs don’t stop there. Health retreats usually offer an array of massages and spa treatments, and many actually schedule time each day for guests to book treatments. And again, they are often much more expensive than the same service in your home suburb.
Variable quality of health info and advice
I used to love going to health retreats when I was a crazy-busy, stressed out lawyer. I especially enjoyed the seminars where we would learn about health and wellbeing. But these days, with a Masters degree in Nutrition, I can’t bring myself to sit through some of the bunk that is presented as “health information” at the health retreats I used to go to. Telling busy professionals to cut out entire nutritious food groups which will only push them into nutruent deficiency, or to make sure they include lots of the “good salt”, just makes me fume.
I’ve been to health retreats that were staffed by highly-qualified allied health professionals, and others where people with no qualifications at all were trying to bully me into expensive “treatments” no reputable professional would offer. Some of the “must-have treatments” offered by some health retreats are unnecessary and can be downright dangerous. I’ve been offered herb-infused colonics (with icky looking equipment), and an ayurvedic treatment where herbal oil is poured in my eyes. No thanks!!!
It’s not your real life
Not only are health retreats not like real life, they are often lightyears away from “normal life”. So the habits you start to build on your retreat may not work when you get back to your home environment. There is a very real danger that you will quickly revert back to your old habits once you leave the hyper-controlled health retreat environment.
So, should you go to a health retreat?
If you can easily afford it, and you’ve never been to a health retreat, there’s no harm in trying one for a short stay to see if you like it. But make sure you do a little research first, read reviews and when you are there, be careful about the “treatments on offer”, and be very careful about taking any health advice - check with your doctor before making any drastic changes.
These days, I personally prefer to spend my “health and wellbeing” money on sessions with my exercise physiologist, on massages and beautiful fresh produce. And my “holiday” money on fabulous AirBnB’s where I can create my own healthy holidays!
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