Ever feel like you need a vacation after you take a vacation? Perhaps you might consider wellness tourism as a framework for your next break. Wellness travel is essentially a form of self-care: It involves intentionally unplugging from life’s stressors to recharge your batteries, and keeping health and well-being in mind so you can reenter daily life feeling rejuvenated and refreshed.
Wellness tourism looks different for each individual. Some travelers might sign up for a yoga and meditation retreat, stay at a hot springs or spa resort, camp and hike to connect with nature, or even create a DIY itinerary with healthy activities to enhance a preplanned business or family trip. Others might plan a staycation where they find a local Airbnb or hotel to simply get away from their usual environment and rest up for a few days. And others might opt for immersion-based wellness travel, like a pilgrimage, intensive yoga training, or a visit to a humanistic integrative education center to deepen their self-inquiry path.
Unlike other forms of travel, wellness tourism differs from your typical vacation in that well-being remains the primary focus. And beyond offering an opportunity to reestablish healthy habits like sleeping better, eating well, and exercising daily, it may offer other potential physiological and mental health benefits, too.
“Wellness getaways are a prime opportunity to achieve a mental, physical, or emotional reset,” says Lisette Cifaldi, the director of behavioral health at Hilton Head Health, a weight loss and wellness resort on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina.
After retreating to a place with well-being-supportive environments and activities that suit your budget and interests, you may return home happier and less stressed, more motivated to tweak unhealthy behaviors and improve your heart and brain health over time.
Just keep in mind that many of the potential benefits of wellness tourism are anecdotal. Most research focuses on the health benefits of general travel instead of wellness tourism specifically. That said, here are some potential perks of wellness-inspired travel that may last long after you get home.
1. It May Boost Happiness
Do you return from vacation feeling happier than before you left? Research suggests this mood boost may have long-term mental health benefits — provided you keep up your travel habit. In a past study of 1,500 women, those who vacationed twice a year were less likely to suffer from depression and chronic stress than women who vacationed less frequently.
There are many reasons why regular time off makes you a happier person. One explanation may be that travel offers a change of scenery, sparking brain activity that has a positive effect on mood.
For example, the authors of a study published in 2020 in Nature discovered that people with more variability in their daily environment were often happier than those who tended to stay put. They also took brain scans of the study participants, and found that people who changed up their location more often also had greater hippocampal-striatal brain circuit activity. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that’s linked with spatial location and the detection of novelty. According to past research, exposure to new environments lights up the hippocampus and releases dopamine, a feel-good brain chemical.
Plus, there’s a lot of learning that takes place on vacation. You get the opportunity to try new foods, experiences, and cultures, “which is the opposite of when you’re living your ordinary life at home,” says Michael Brein, PhD, a travel psychologist living on Bainbridge Island, Washington. With new stimuli come new decisions you have to make about where to go, what to eat, and what to do. Every time you make a “good” (read: healthy) decision, you’re rewarded with a boost in self-confidence, Dr. Brein notes. This sense of accomplishment may lift your mood and inspire you to make changes in your daily routine.
More research is needed to understand why travel boosts happiness, and whether wellness tourism — like dedicating a week to backpacking, spa treatments, or meditating —has unique effects.
2. It May Provide Lasting Stress Relief
It’s well known that stress can create health problems if you don’t find ways to manage it. When you’re constantly stressed, your body stays on high alert even when there’s no real danger. According to MedlinePlus, this can increase your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and depression or anxiety, among other health issues.
Taking a trip to focus solely on your well-being is one way to manage stress. It gives your mind and body a break from everyday pressures and allows you to participate in relaxing activities and experiences, such as massage therapy, yoga, nature therapy, and meditation. Wellness-focused activities like these bring stress levels down. And you probably won’t have to wait long to notice the effects: According to a nonacademic online survey by Expedia referenced in 2018 by the Global Coalition on Aging, 88 percent of people feel relaxed by day two of their vacation.
Disconnecting for a few days may make your usual responsibilities feel more manageable once your wellness getaway is over. “These experiences help build resilience, allowing travelers to return home feeling refreshed and better equipped to handle day-to-day stressors,” says Jeanette Lorandini, LCSW, a New York City–based licensed clinical social worker and the owner of Suffolk DBT.
A short trip may even reap lasting stress relief. In a study published in 2018 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20 midlevel executives spent four nights in a hotel outside their usual environment, while a control group of 20 spent their vacation at home. Both groups noticed immediate improvements in stress and well-being. The managers who spent their vacation at a hotel saw greater benefits in improved strain and perceived stress, with the effects lasting 45 days post-vacation.
3. It May Improve Heart Health
The stress-lowering effects of travel may offer good news for heart health.
One small study published in 2019 in Psychology & Health found that full-time workers — participant demographics were 70 percent female and 93 percent Caucasian and earned a middle-class income — who took more vacations over the previous year had fewer symptoms of metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) than workers who took fewer vacations. In fact, the risk of metabolic syndrome decreased by nearly a quarter with each additional vacation, the researchers noted. The study included only 63 people, which makes it hard to know how these findings might apply to a larger group.
And in another past study, researchers followed more than 12,000 middle-aged men at high risk for heart disease over nine years. The authors discovered that men who reported they had taken a vacation in the previous year were 17 percent less likely to have passed away than men who hadn’t traveled.
While these findings may seem promising, the authors noted that healthier people may be more likely to travel, which may explain why frequent travelers have healthier hearts. More research is needed to determine if and how travel — wellness tourism in particular — could benefit cardiovascular health. According to research published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology in April 2021, there may be other barriers to taking time off, like financial restraints and the stress of leaving roles and responsibilities, among others.
4. It May Boost Memory and Creativity
Visiting new environments through travel stimulates the brain, helping you stay sharp, according to the aforementioned report from the Global Coalition on Aging.
In a past study involving more than 2,000 older adults, researchers discovered that those who regularly participated in social or leisure activities such as traveling during the three-year study period had a lower risk of developing dementia, a general term for when the impaired ability to remember, think, or make decisions interferes with everyday life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Exposure to new stimuli may also get your creative juices flowing. In a study published in 2021 in Frontiers in Psychology, employees — the participant group was 74 percent female, 39 percent had children, and over half had a college degree — rated their work-related creativity as higher post-vacation. The researchers speculated that workers were able to recover and restore their mental bandwidth during vacation, which helped them feel more productive and creative once they returned to work. Other explanations for this creativity boost may have been present, and more research is needed to know how, exactly, wellness tourism offers improved creative function.
In reporting on wellness tourism, we're aware there are challenges to taking formal vacation time, including the cost of travel, lack of paid vacation time, and responsibilities at home and at work, among others.
What are the Benefits of a wellness retreat? ›
- 8 Reasons to Consider a Wellbeing Retreat. ...
- Long-lasting Health Benefits. ...
- A New Approach to Travel and Good Health. ...
- Break Old Habits. ...
- Focus on Relaxation. ...
- Improve Dietary Habits. ...
- Peaceful Surroundings. ...
- A Change from Routine.
Retreats Can Make You Healthier
According to one recent study, the answer is yes. The study, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, took place at a week-long wellness retreat with a blend of educational, therapeutic, and leisure activities and a mostly plant-based diet.
Research studies related to wellness indicate that Americans who take good care of themselves and make healthy lifestyle choices are healthier, happier, more productive, miss less work, and have lower healthcare costs.What can I gain from a retreat? ›
Five Benefits of Attending a Retreat
- Breaking Your Daily Routine. ...
- Connecting With Nature. ...
- Incorporating Mindfulness. ...
- Meeting Like-Minded People. ...
- Long-Term Benefits.
What is a retreat? A retreat is a type of group getaway in which the members of that group take time to form bonds with one another, contemplate their purpose and motives, and work on one or more specific goals. People often mistake any group planning or training meeting for a retreat.Why are retreats so important? ›
Contrary to the regular vacation, which is quite simply a time off from daily routine, retreats are enriching getaways that provide a safe sanctuary to allow a deeper physical, and emotional withdrawal from the stresses and strains of everyday life.Why would you go to a retreat? ›
Retreats offer the benefit of physical, emotional and psychological withdrawal from the stresses and strains of everyday life: a chance to escape from the toxic effects of noise, information overload, unrealistic demands and the frantic busy-ness of 21st century living; to enjoy a safe haven in which to start to ...What are the 4 most important components of wellness? ›
- Spiritual Wellness. Spiritual strength is that force that drives us to make sacrifices for others, our nation, and the greater good. ...
- Emotional Wellness. Emotional wellness refers to building an awareness of and accepting one's feelings and moods. ...
- Physical Wellness. ...
- Social Wellness.
Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.What are the 4 benefits of a healthy lifestyle? ›
- Feeling better mentally. Research shows that getting regular exercise can lift your mood and helps you feel better, reducing symptoms for people with depression. ...
- Saving money. ...
- Fewer health problems. ...
- Developing good habits. ...
- Taking control of your life.
What are the benefits of spiritual retreat? ›
Regardless of what type or format you choose, it is clear that a spiritual retreat can help you cultivate self-awareness and inner peace, forge lifelong connections, and rejuvenate your being and the lives of those around you for the better.What makes a retreat special? ›
Retreats are powerful when they bring the right people together at the right time for the right reasons with the right process. Retreats allow us to step away from our daily responsibilities and see each other, our assump- tions and our work with a wider lens and a different perspective.What are the benefits of a silent retreat? ›
More than just being silent, though, the retreat gives you an opportunity to reflect inwardly and process your thoughts in a calm, constructive way. A silent retreat will take the energy you usually devote to communication and interaction with others and channel it inward.What happens at wellness retreats? ›
A typical day at a wellness retreat may include a morning meditation or yoga practice, a healthy nutritious meal plan, a massage or energy work treatment. Wellness retreats are centred around improving your health and wellbeing through relaxation, connection and education.What do you do on a health retreat? ›
On a wellness retreat, you relax in place, enjoying the calm environment of the resort and the beauty surrounding you. You learn new skills or interests with part of every day. You benefit from healthy treatments like massage, and simply enjoy your time to reflect and relax throughout your stay.What is the importance of retreat? ›
A retreat refreshes and revitalizes, gives the opportunity for more time spent in prayer and contemplation, and rekindles and deepens one's relationship with God. One may take this opportunity to more clearly hear God's call and to seek God's healing grace and thereby attain a degree of spiritual renewal.What are the purpose of retreats? ›
People go on retreat to seek God through time apart which is why it's important to provide a context and framework for retreat – solitude, stillness, time for prayer and reflection, time for God, time to stop, and time to talk and share, things that are not always possible in the demands of normal everyday life.What is a wellness vacation? ›
The Wellness Tourism Association defines Wellness Travel as: Travel that allows the traveler to maintain, enhance or kick-start a healthy lifestyle, and support or increase one's sense of wellbeing.