One of the fastest growing trends in luxury travel in recent years has been the integration of health and wellness into everything from expanded spa, fitness and food menus to an increasing focus on intensive, all-inclusive holistic retreats.
There's no question that these programs are popular, with study after study documenting the phenomenal growth of the wellness tourism industry.
What those studies have never really addressed is the most basic, underlying question: Do wellness tourists actually get well?
The answer, apparently, is a resounding yes.
In what is being billed as the first published scientific study of the effectiveness of wellness retreats, researchers from RMIT University in Australia said they found that a one-week retreat that includes educational, therapeutic and leisure activities along with an organic, mostly plant-based diet resulted in substantial improvements in everything from weight, blood pressure and psychological health.
And the benefits, which they measured through a series of questionnaires and medical screenings, including urine samples and blood pressure readings from 37 participants, were still evident six weeks later.
The study, published in a recent issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, is, of course, welcome news for the wellness and wellness tourism industries.
Beth McGroarty, director of research at the Global Wellness Institute, said the report underscores the need for more scientific research on the impact of wellness retreats (at different lengths of stay) on guests' physical and mental health.
While there are many studies on the benefits of things like diet, yoga and other health and fitness regimes, "in a wellness retreat, therapies/experiences often happen in concert and over multiple days," she said. "And combining them may have unique outcomes."
Indeed, the researchers also called for further studies, saying a retreat environment provides "a unique living laboratory where all aspects of lifestyle can be controlled or studied."
"Retreat experiences provide a unique opportunity for people to escape from unhealthy routines and engage in healthy practices and activities that lead to immediate and sustained health benefits," the report said.