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Super Spas

Resort spas offer luxury, pampering and realistic fitness approaches
Larry Olmsted
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00

 The wake-up call came at 6:30, but it should have come months earlier. A harried schedule of deadlines and travel and the overindulgence that go with it were beginning to show. My fitness routine, which once had bordered on fanatical, was comical, and while it was easy to lie to myself, the bathroom scale refused to be an accomplice. This was the sorry state of affairs that had brought me to Utah--way too early in the morning.  

"A lot of people go on a vacation to escape from the problems in their lives. People come here to solve their problems," explained Alan Coombs, founder and owner of the Green Valley Spa, into whose able hands I had placed myself.  

Green Valley is one of about two dozen destination spas in North America specializing in life enhancement, with a focus on fitness, nutrition and other aspects of well being. Spas accommodate just about anyone and any level of change he seeks, from dramatic weight loss to the fine tuning of an exercise program, from stress reduction to becoming a healthier cook. Offering atmospheres of boot camps, decadent luxury, boot-camp-like atmospheres and everything in between, spa vacations are exploding in popularity.  

"Traditionally, hotel spas were pampering palaces where rich men could send their wives while they did something else," according to Coombs. Today, such facilities, usually attached to resort hotels, are known as amenity spas--another activity, like golf, to be enjoyed at multifaceted vacation destinations. While many amenity spas now include more health and fitness programs, they are still best known for pampering. Destination spas, such as Green Valley, Canyon Ranch and the Golden Door, are where guests go to learn, be motivated, decompress or begin changing their lifestyles.  

"There has been a trend sweeping the spa industry. It's gone from pampering to fitness and prevention," said Bernard Burt, a frequent contributor to Spa magazine and the author of Fodor's Healthy Escapes, the definitive guide to North American spas and fitness resorts. "Spas are being repositioned for the next decade as centers for education and learning to enhance lifestyle. Since I first surveyed the marketplace 12 years ago, the movement to incorporate fitness and healthy eating into our regular lifestyle has become global. The days of quick weight loss and rabbit food are behind us. Even the European spas are moving away from their traditional water-based treatments and towards the American health and fitness lifestyle model."  

"People complain that they don't have the willpower," says Jack LaLanne, the former Mr. America, television star, athlete and author known as the Father of Fitness. "Most Americans, if they don't see results immediately--I mean they want results yesterday--they quit." This is where spas can come in. A weeklong visit to a spa cannot take the place of a healthy diet or regular exercise, or turn an out-of-shape guest into an Olympic athlete. It can, however, produce quantifiable results that will show up in the mirror and be the perfect start for a lifestyle change. These spas are most beneficial to those who have little knowledge or interest in fitness and nutrition.  

"A lot of people turn 50," says Burt, "and your doctor threatens to put you on medication if you don't lose some weight. Where are you going to go? There are no schools for that."  

Actually, spas are the perfect classroom for the situation he describes, whether it is age, bad habits or years of desk-bound stress catching up. Under one roof, you have the opportunity to get answers to questions covering a comprehensive array of lifestyle issues. Personal trainers demonstrate exercises and equipment and help develop a sensible and realistic fitness program. An array of fitness activities start you on the road to getting in shape and make it much more likely that you will continue the regimen at home. A week of healthy eating, along with classes in cooking, nutrition and related topics, can demonstrate that it is possible to survive, and even enjoy, healthy dining. Some spas also offer experts during certain weeks for those with special needs stemming from such problems as cardiac distress, asthma or movement limitations.  

A week at a fitness spa is a sure way to jump-start a New Year's resolution, justify that treadmill purchase or ease back into a golf or tennis routine. It is also great for seasonal athletes coming off a long inactive winter but planning a summer of sports and activities. You can lose a couple of pounds and make concrete advances in aerobic fitness and endurance. Most important, the spa atmosphere provides the motivation to get going. Exercise may never be easy, but after a spa vacation, it will not be torture.  

Green Valley is a typical fitness-oriented spa. Most guests come for a week, although shorter stays are possible. Hiking is the mainstay of the regimen, like at many other spas, and the setting in the beautiful Utah desert assures good weather year-round. An orientation and hand massage are provided to arriving guests, along with a tour and explanation of the various activities. A weekly schedule lists exercise classes, lectures and optional activities. Each day begins with a hike, and guests can usually choose between three levels of difficulty, ranging from a casual stroll to 12-mile forced marches at an aggressive pace.  


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