Be the picture of health during your trip thanks to wellbeing retreats, hotels with jet-lag prevention programs, running concierges and sleep-promoting pillows.
In the not-too-distant past, I equated staying healthy while travelling with ordering a caesar salad from the in-room dining menu rather than a club sandwich. I figured that all the walking I was doing sightseeing meant I didn't need to go to the gym, and justified my breakfast mimosa by joking that it was cocktail o'clock somewhere in the world, right? But as I found myself away from home more and more, my unhealthy travel habits began to catch up with me. I was irritable, not sleeping, constantly stressed and glued to technology. I wasn't alone.
The latest Roy Morgan research shows Australians are suffering when it comes to mental health, with growing incidences of depression and anxiety, and we're constantly looking for ways to overcome this. "A large number of the population, regardless of position or privilege, are feeling the pressure of modern-day lifestyles and are seeking solutions to help them cope," says Tracy Willis, marketing manager at Gold Coast hinterland health retreat Gwinganna (gwinganna.com).
This growing need to improve our health on a more holistic level saw the global wellness economy soar to $US3.7 trillion in 2015, according to the Global Wellness Economy Monitor. Wellness tourism accounts for $US563 billion of this, increasing by more than 10 per cent annually – double that of global tourism overall.
"From our perspective, as a designated wellness retreat, the main reason for guest visits has changed in the last 15 to 20 years from being predominantly focused on weight loss to now being stress management related," says Willis. "The wellness tourism industry as a whole has moved from niche and being seen as indulgent to much more mainstream and now seen as a valuable part of a healthy lifestyle."
Anna Bjurstam, the VP of spas and wellness for hotel group Six Senses (sixsenses.com), agrees.
"Wellness has penetrated into everyday life, and we know that in order to have great life we need to eat, sleep, move and work on being present with a balanced mind," she says. "We want to create wellness that can fit into everyday life and have a long lasting effect. Even when we're away from home."
Like me, many use travel as an excuse to eat foods we know are not good for us – as a reward, because we're on holiday, or out of necessity, because we're stuck in hotels working. But a growing number of operators are coming up with savvy solutions. Last year saw the launch of Eat with Six Senses, a group-wide menu revamp that features low-sugar and low-sodium items, and gluten-, soy- and hormone-free dining options, which was developed in partnership with doctors and nutritionists.
"We are able to offer healthy, organic food in our restaurants without compromising on taste," says Bjurstam.
The company also introduced a menu of smoothies and juices, all low in fructose and designed to deliver a boost of concentrated micronutrients. Guests can participate in cleanse programs, where they are provided with a selection of smoothies and juices that best suit their wellness goals. The Standard hotel group (standardhotels.com) has a similar offering: book a five-day juice detox and you'll receive a wellness schedule, use of hydrotherapy facilities and cleansing juices.
At the East London Juice Co. within the Ace Hotel (acehotel.com), the menu extends to botanical and medicinal juices, tonics and elixirs made with organic ingredients such as milk thistle, chlorella, spirulina and marine phytoplankton. And the Swissotel group (swissotel.com) recently launched a menu of "vitality drinks", each packed with wholesome ingredients. It's part of a larger program that encourages guests to exercise, eat well and sleep well – some properties now come with "vitality rooms", designed with calming hues, discreet technology, dedicated space to work out and black-out blinds.
COMO Hotels and Resorts (comohotels.com) is renowned for its nutritionally balanced Shambhala Cuisine, the popularity of which inspired the 2016 launch of The Pleasures of Eating Well; Nourishing favourites from the COMO Shambhala kitchen. The cookbook looks at how food can deliver pleasure as well as health and energy, and contains 147 recipes that were reconfigured from the COMO kitchen to work for guests once they go home.
Other initiatives launched to foster healthy eating on holiday range from a restaurant dedicated to organic and raw food at Huvafen Fushi (huvafenfushi.com) in the Maldives and calorie-restricted menus across hotels in the Four Seasons (fourseasons.com) portfolio to a Fresh Fridge concept at The Epiphany Hotel in California (nobuhotels.com) – pre-order this and your minibar will be stocked with cold-pressed juices, superfood bars and nut milks, rather than beer and chips.
It has never been easier to check in and work out. Many hotels now come with in-room fitness equipment, whether it's yoga mats and pre-programmed fitness channels on TV or cardio equipment of your choice. When booking one of the Westin's (starwoodhotels.com) Workout Rooms, you can choose to have it fitted with a treadmill or stationary bike so you can exercise in private at any hour of the day. If you forget your gym equipment or are packing light, you can also make the most of the group's gear lending program in collaboration with New Balance. Omni Hotels & Resorts (omnihotels.com) has similar Get Fit rooms, which include the option to have weights delivered, and Even Hotels has cork-floored zones in some rooms, with weights, stretching equipment and a workout app to provide inspiration.
If you prefer getting to know your temporary neighbourhood while working out, there are plenty of inspiring options. Westin employs running concierges around the US – you can join a guided jog, or grab a map and head off at your own pace. And the Ritz-Carlton in Vienna will pair you with a jogging partner from the hotel team so you'll not only get some exercise, but also a tour of the city.
For something different, try night surfing at Hotel Komune in Bali (komuneresorts.com) or underwater yoga at the island's Alila Manggis (alilahotels.com/manggis). The Berkeley in London the-berkeley.co.uk offers HulaFit classes, while Hotel del Coronado hoteldel.com in California has Mermaid Classes that are a fusion of swimming, core, cardio and strength training set to upbeat music.
Long-haul flights that cross several time zones wreak havoc on the body's circadian rhythms, and the effects are worse the further you travel.
"Another trend that is emerging is jet-lag programs," designed to minimise lost hours on the ground, says Bjurstam.
"Today, there is enough research to show that with personalised circadian rhythm programs using light, dark, melatonin, natural stimulants, food and drinks as well as physical exercise, there is a way to not be jet-lagged when travelling."
Six Senses' program to reduce jet lag was created in co-operation with sleep doctor Michael J. Breus. It covers everything from bedding – using handmade mattresses plus organic pillows and duvets that feature natural breathing and cooling zones – to tailored spa treatments and meal recommendations, assigned by a Sleep Ambassador. Other touches include bamboo-fibre pyjamas, eye masks, earplugs, a jasmine sleep spritzer and videos providing sleep suggestions.
In New York, The Benjamin hotel's Rest & Renew program (thebenjamin.com) was developed in partnership with Rebecca Robbins, author of Sleep for Success!. Robbins is available for customised sleep consultations, alongside a special selection of bedtime bites and work-down calls to remind guests to power down electronics and begin preparing for bed. Of course, if you need a bit more help dozing off, you can read a copy of Robbins' book, placed in each room.
Swissotel recently introduced circadian light features in rooms – light colours change to influence the secretion of melatonin in the brain, helping travellers overcome jet lag or lack of sunlight. Swissôtel Berlin's Deep Sleep package provides pick-me-ups throughout the day and a power-nap area within lounges. At night, a sound pillow produces beats to increase relaxing brainwaves.
While focusing on food, fitness and sleep is a step in the right direction, industry leaders are highlighting the need for a more holistic approach to wellbeing while away.
"COMO Shambhala advocates proactive holistic wellbeing, combining modern science with ancient healing," says Chris Orlikowski, global PR manager for the group. "Our founder designed COMO Shambhala out of her personal pursuit of a meaningful spa and wellness experience that encompasses all elements of a healthy lifestyle."
It's a philosophy also embraced by The Standard group through its Standard Cures program. In New York, guests can sign up for seminars that look at futuristic and far-out cures or join guided meditation sessions; they can also be hooked up to an IV drip for an instant hit of hydration, have a B12 shot, try infrared healing or chill out in a cryogenic spa. To round out the experience, the hotel's boutique sells "cleansing candles", crystals and activated almonds.
Anantara Hotels and Resorts (anantara.com) has crafted a range of wellness packages for its mostly-Asian portfolio. The inclusions and length vary depending on your location, but might be guided meditation, detox cuisine, personal training sessions and consultations with health practitioners. "These programs are unique in that they are optional, built for two people, and they're a nice introduction to something more intensive, or just a great, healthy short break," says Monica Majors, director of MSpa for the group.
Six Senses now works with doctors and other experts to "deepen our understanding on how we can provide guests with proven and scientific wellness solutions," says Bjurstam. "With our integrated wellness program we measure biomarkers that show where strengths and weaknesses lie in a person's wellness."
There's also increasing attention being paid to mindfulness and time out. Gwinganna's Meditation Suites come with a Zen-like corner equipped with cushions, meditation books and an iPod, to complement group meditation sessions. This year, the retreat will introduce a Somadome: a personal meditation pod with LED colour therapy, "binaural beat meditation" and "microcrystalline tiles". Complimentary 20-minute lunchtime mindfulness sessions are available at the Aman Spa at The Connaught Hotel in London (the-connaught.co.uk) and the W hotel in New York (hwnewyork.com) has partnered with hip meditation crowd The Path to offer guests sessions.
"I think people will continue to look for authentic experiences that can deliver results so they can make changes when they return home," says Willis. "There is still a lot of potential for the industry to grow."