Health Spas

Mar 1, 2011
2011 / March 2011

For thousands of years, men and women have searched for therapies to prolong life and benefit health. The word “spa” is said to derive from the town of Spa, Belgium, celebrated since the Middle Ages for its medicinal spring waters. Pilgrimages to Spa were so popular that by the early 17th century “spa” described any place with a medicinal spring marketed to tourists. Soaking in such waters was also deemed beneficial, so “spa” came to mean any place that featured heated baths, such as Bath, England, established by the Romans as a spa resort in the first century.

Today, the terms “health spa” and “destination spa” generally refer to a facility with a comprehensive approach to bolstering health, combining fitness, healthy eating, relaxation and renewal with spa services. With the emphasis on living better, getting healthier and learning something about yourself, services go far beyond pampering.

Destination spas come in a range of prices and personalities, so it’s important to determine what you’re looking for in terms of facilities, amenities and special programming. Prices range from a few hundred dollars a night to many thousands a week. Facilities run the gamut from intimate inns accommodating a dozen guests to sprawling estates that can host hundreds.

A visit to a health spa begins with an assessment of your current lifestyle and wellness so that a program can be designed to meet your specific needs. Fitness programs may include exercise routines, hiking, kayaking, yoga, tai chi, Pilates or even snow sports in certain climates. Therapeutic spa treatments often include massage, hydrotherapy and stress reduction techniques such as meditation. Many spas offer workshops in spirituality, behavior modification or lifestyle changes. Treatments may address chronic disorders such as headaches, fibromyalgia or pain.

One of the oldest health therapies is the Ayurvedic tradition; some spas offer Ayurvedic therapies on their spa menu while others are solely Ayurvedic spas. These centuries-old therapies from India aim to balance and reawaken the body’s natural healing mechanism; guests learn how factors in their individual make-up affect physical tendencies, emotions, motivation and behavior.

A common denominator among most destination spas is nutritional education that emphasizes healthy eating — often based on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, though these are not necessarily organic. Some spas are geared to weight loss, with restricted calories and portion control. Others have an all-you-can-eat approach. Many do not allow alcohol; some serve alcohol with dinner.

Health and destination spas have a spirit of friendliness because guests have a shared interest in improving their health. Many spas organize guests into small groups so people can get to know each other while eating and participating in activities. There is usually a high staff-to-guest ratio; and staff members tend to be friendly, energetic and enthusiastic about their programs.

Whichever type of spa you choose, make sure it is licensed by the state or government as a health spa and is following the guidelines mandated by law. The providers need to be experienced, registered and licensed in their specialties. This includes therapists, counselors, dieticians, massage therapists and behavioral psychologists. Nutritionists should be registered dieticians. Fitness staff should be registered physical therapists or exercise physiologists. If a health care team is present, the physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and nurses must be registered and licensed.

Make sure the facility is regularly surveyed by the state or government; find out the date and outcome of the last inspection. Spas must follow state regulations for cleanliness and chlorination of hot tubs and swimming pools, which must pass regular inspections by a health department. If these guidelines are not followed, spa guests run the risk of contracting hot tub rash, Pseudomonas infections and other recreational water illnesses. Always consult your physician before a spa visit to ensure you are in good condition for activity programs and treatments.


Hitting Home

It’s difficult to leave a life-changing, nurturing environment and return home to reality. Here’s how you can prolong the benefits of a spa stay.

*  At the spa, attend workshops on health, human relations or spirituality

*  Bring a journal to record your thoughts and take notes

*  Bring home a memento to inspire you to stay on the path of wellness

*  Take time to transition; take a few days at home to integrate the experience into your life

*  Be realistic about re-entry; list your work and home priorities but don’t expect to get to them all

*    Have a massage within a week of returning home

*  Nurture yourself throughout the year with massages, facials and exercise

*  Follow up from home with your spa professionals if needed

The content of this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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