10 Reasons Why Your Next Trip Should Be A Wellness Retreat

The last couple of years have been hard on all of us, and according to one study on young adults conducted during the early stages of the pandemic, and published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the risk for depression during the global shutdown skyrocketed. As COVID's grip starts to ease, and life returns to something more familiar, more manageable, this is the perfect time to heal and repair, to recenter yourself, and what better place to do this than at a wellness retreat? At these refuges, workshops, classes, and healthy practices can help you to focus on what's truly important — your physical and mental health — and allow you to recharge, ready to tackle anything that lies ahead. And for anyone new to the term "wellness retreat" that wants to understand the thought behind it a little better, the Wellness Tourism Association describes it as programs and workshops led by guides that work toward a specific goal, with the overall experience incorporating healthy food and fitness as part of its regime. In short, expect to engage in plenty of good stuff the next time you attend a wellness retreat.

We all need a change of scenery

After being stuck in limbo for the better part of two years, everyone needs a switch in their surroundings to clear their mind — enter the wellness retreat, a refreshing new environment that's a figurative breath of fresh air, and often filled with actual fresh air! These places of reflection and restoration are usually situated far from what we are used to, and generally designed as self-contained enclaves, worlds unto themselves that help guests to physically and mentally leave behind their daily lives. Miraval Austin, for instance, sits in the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve in Texas Hill Country, an area populated by bluebonnets and juniper trees, and visited by the golden-cheeked warbler, a bird that only nests in Texas and whose future is endangered by habitat loss and parasites. 

Beyond the expected energizing aspect of being somewhere different, travelers can pick up tangible health benefits by visiting this type of retreat. According to a study published in 2020 in Nature Neuroscience, modifying the place where you are can produce a profoundly positive impact on your wellbeing. The study also noticed that on days at the beginning of the week, and when temperatures were noticeably warmer, the positive effects of changing location were less pronounced. The message — travel on pleasant days closer to the weekend for the maximum gain.

Reconnect with nature and feel better

A key ingredient of the wellness-retreat experience is the specific location. These havens are typically set deep in nature and verdantly landscaped as conduits to help strengthen the voyage of spiritual and physical discovery. In a world where more than half of the global population lives in cities, according to the World Bank, truly getting into nature isn't always simple. But it is worth it, with a wealth of science-backed evidence showing that nature is undeniably good for us. The paper titled Influence of Forest Therapy on Cardiovascular Relaxation in Young Adults, conducted by researchers and scientists from Finland, Japan, and South Korea looked at the medicinal properties of forest therapy, a curative discipline characterized by walks in forests in a cool climate, where fresh air is a key ingredient. Comparing walking in the forest to strolls in urban areas, the authors found significant reductions in heart rates, blood pressure, anxiety, anger, and fatigue, and reports of better moods among participants in the study that spent time wandering in the woods. 

Work led by the University of Exeter's European Centre for Environment and Human Health, published in Scientific Reports, was able to put a concrete figure on the healing power of nature. Scouring data from almost 20,000 people in England, the researchers concluded that spending 120 minutes — just two hours — in nature a week, either in a single visit or divided into shorter trips, was markedly beneficial for physical and psychological health. 

Practice mindfulness and get perspective

Mindfulness — the art of really paying attention to the world around us — has been shown to have hugely positive effects on memory function, stress reduction, and emotional stability, according to the American Psychological Association. During the last couple of years, when isolation became a part of all our new-normal lives, everyone's mental health took a significant pummeling, making the benefits of incorporating mindfulness into our lives all the more attractive. At wellness retreats, mindfulness is often folded into the journey, a way for the individual to shift attention away from the minor and inconsequential aspects of daily life and gain perspective and inner calm. 

While mindfulness seems extremely straightforward, and can seemingly be achieved by following a few simple steps, as outlined concisely by the Mayo Clinic, it's something we often overlook, caught up in the hectic, almost automatic cycle of our daily routines. At wellness retreats, with those distractions removed and with the help of professional guides and facilitators, mindfulness becomes much more effortless to achieve. While inner peace is touted as one of the key results of this practice, other advantages, the Mayo Clinic states, include improvements in blood pressure, insomnia, and depression. 

In Big Sur, on the North California coast, Esalen is both a research center and wellness retreat, dispersed over 100 acres and featuring natural hot springs and home-grown organic produce. It also hosts workshops on mindfulness.

You'll get some great food

Wellness retreats serve healthy balanced cuisine as part of the holistic experience. We know what you're thinking — these healthy meals are just a sneaky way to embellish food that has been stripped down to the bare necessities, robbed of all seasoning, spice, flavor, or plain-old fun. But that's not true, and with retreats squarely set on nourishing the palate as well as the body and soul, meals that will make your mouth samba with joy are a vital component of any wellness experience. Think dishes made with seasonal ingredients, fresh fruits and vegetables, without unpronounceable additives or that are in any way processed. 

The no-frills Wild Rice Retreat, set on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin, promotes the comforting aspect of its dining, which is complemented by regional beers, ciders, and natural wines (so it's not all boring!). According to an editor at Goop, the food at one wellness retreat in the mountains of Northern California was the best she had eaten all year. And for readers that like to soak up a little bit of armchair travel, and get a glimpse at what's being offered in Asia and Australia, this list compiled by Good Food shows some of the culinary delights available at wellness retreats on the other side of the globe.

Kickstart a healthier lifestyle

With obesity rates in this country above 40%, according to the CDC, there are plenty of reasons for us Americans to improve our lifestyles. Wellness retreats can play a role in that — just take one look at the name of this type of getaway for proof of where their priorities lie — by encouraging visitors to kickstart a healthier lifestyle through practices that are part of the daily routine during their stay. These include better eating, improved sleep, attaining inner peace, and finding joy in life's simple pleasures, influences that all play a vital and under-appreciated part in improving overall health. Wellness has a deep history, stretching back thousands of years, according to the Global Wellness Institute, starting with Ayurveda in India where the basic premise was to create unity and alignment between body and mind. That idea continues to drive wellness today, and the industry has come leaps and bounds in the past century, enjoying rapid growth and projected to be worth $7 trillion in 2025. 

A wellness retreat in South Florida that prides itself on tackling weight and other health issues, Pritikin has a team of physicians that includes a cardiologist and endocrinologist, registered dieticians that will help guests decode the meaning behind the catalog of ingredients on a food label, and psychologist-led workshops that ensure any positive changes achieved during a stay will continue long after check-out.

Wave goodbye to bad habits and get fit

Taking the idea of pursuing a healthier lifestyle a step further, targeted programs at wellness retreats can focus on specific goals, from helping guests overcome an addiction to restructuring their diet, from making them more flexible to improving their posture and general movement. Guides at these retreats are experts in their field — including a former Olympic athlete in the case of St. Lucia's BodyHoliday — and each program is tailored to ensure participants achieve their goals during the length of the visit. Since the retreats are self-contained, and notable for the level of support from staff and other guests, the experience focuses less on any outside temptations that can derail your attempts and more on the positive atmosphere and encouragement that can help you to succeed. In addition to addressing the issues outlined above, staff members are also able to work specifically on getting you fit, whether that be core fitness, hiking, biking, or other disciplines. 

At The Ranch, spread across 200 acres in Southern California's Santa Monica Mountains, fitness programs include a seven-day option that combines healthy meals with hiking, stretching, naps, strength classes, yoga, and massage. The resort claims that visitors regularly drop up to 6% of their body weight in addition to achieving numerous other health targets. Sounds like a win-win scenario.

Improve creativity

Being stuck in the daily routine isn't great for firing up the imagination, though it's certainly a boon for creative blocks. Artists have long sought out new surroundings to help unlock their creative energy, to get their productive juices back at full flow. One of the most famous examples was when Post-Impressionist French painter Paul Gauguin moved to Tahiti at the end of the 19th century, a period that led to a prolific output of work, as detailed in this story by auction house Christie's. Wellness retreats offer a fabulous opportunity for anyone to get back their mojo by removing the patterns and distractions of their normal lives, and helping them to find fascination, beauty, and inspiration from new surroundings and novel experiences. Whether they are by the ocean, on a mountain, or in a desert, wellness hideaways are undeniably a great base for cerebral stimulation. 

Located between Los Angeles and San Diego, Golden Door calls 600 acres of Southern California home. In addition to hiking around the 30 miles of trails dotted across the mountains and fields, guests can pass their time at the onsite Japanese gardens (among them a rock garden and one in a bamboo forest), or wandering through an orange grove, landscapes that are sure to move their souls and revive their creative id. For more ideas, the travel company BookRetreats has compiled a roster of wellness retreats that are primed for unleashing a traveler's artistic potential. 

Reap the benefits of a digital detox

The smartphone might have given us a world of information at our fingertips, but it's also made us slaves to the screen, powerless to the lure of the pixel. These palm-sized devices have more computing power than some NASA technology on Mars (via PC Magazine), which is incredible when you take a moment to think about it, but is that necessarily a good thing? After all, phones have been linked to a raft of mental health issues, and limiting time on them can not only reduce long-term incidences of depression and anxiety but also help to promote a more healthy way of life, according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. 

Thankfully, wellness retreats offer a chance to take a break from this digital overload thanks to poor (or no) cellphone service, enforced no-mobile areas, and a grand collection of activities to keep guests occupied and off their screens, a commendable set-up not lost on the celebrity set (via The Hollywood Reporter). We won't linger on the irony, though, that many wellness retreats are in locations that are totally Instagram-worthy! Our advice? Store the memories in your mind, not on your phone.

They offer good old-fashioned pampering

Sure, wellness retreats are all about resetting yourself, about journeys of discovery that explore the physical and spiritual realms, but they are also about the simple joys of pampering. At these refuges, everything is done for you, from the fantastic, healthy meals freshly prepared each day to the carefully curated wellness workshops and programs. What's also available are long, unhurried spa treatments that can be booked during gaps built into the programs so that guests can have some freedom and a little "me-time". What, after all, can be more pampering than focusing completely on yourself (something that has been shown to lessen symptoms of depression, according to a paper published in Health Psychology Research)? 

There are a wealth of options where you can feel like Number 1, right here in the United States. Travelers can visit Cal-a-Vie, a 450-acre retreat that emulates the look of a village in the French countryside, but is located in Southern California. Other options include taking cooking classes at the New England hideaway Canyon Ranch Lenox which is anchored by a renovated 19th-century manor house. You could also opt to peacefully lounge in thermal waters in the central Arizona mountains at Castle Hot Springs.

Broaden your social circles

According to Mental Health America, those that have strong social connections tend to live longer, while a study about Social Relationships and Mortality Risks found that longevity rises by 50% for people that construct sound social networks around them. Bottom line: Regularly being around other people whose company you enjoy is good for you. At wellness retreats, guests already come with a built-in shared bond — they are there to embark on a voyage of discovery, and they are possibly at the property with the same specific goals in mind as each other — opening an easy avenue to making new friendships. 

A couple of factors also help to foster a sense of togetherness at wellness retreats. These properties, with a huge emphasis on nurturing care, open minds and hearts, and deep personalization, tend to be small, meaning visitors see the same faces repeatedly, unlike a large hotel or resort where anonymity is the dominant social operating system. Secondly, programs are set up to include multiple participants, allowing you to share highs and achieve goals with fellow guests. This generates a sense of commonality and unity in a warm, positive environment that is perfect for growing those fledgling connections into strong friendships that can last a lifetime.