Fitness vacations beckon to healthful boomers

Vacation-bound baby boomers are booking fewer hedonistic holidays in favor of fitness and spa sojourns. Travel industry experts say that amusement and indulgence are on the way out while fostering optimum health and fitness, and body/mind relaxation is becoming increasingly in.

"Boomers have many specific consumer demands, and these include health and fitness," says Tom Wallace, executive editor of the travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler. "They see travel as a right, not a privilege, so it’s hardly surprising that they are seeking customized vacations where they can work out with a personal trainer, take low-fat cooking classes, learn meditation, get a daily massage or all of the above."

According to Kim Marshall, an international spa marketing consultant based in Pacific Palisades, Calif., "The health vacation trend is part of a growing worldwide commitment to what the spa community, holistic health care providers and various wellness and exercise experts refer to as 'anti-aging strategies'.

"Unlike their parents or grandparents," says Marshall, America’s 76 million baby boomers" are working hard to maintain better health as they age. Because they embrace the idea that health is a self-managed continuum or process, they are staying stronger, longer, both in body and mind."

To reach this goal, boomers are making pilgrimages to multitasking, proactive fitness/spa facilities such as The Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, Calif., Green Valley Spa and Tennis Resort in St. George, Utah, and The Aspen Club in Aspen, Colo. These facilities specialize in creating customized exercise plans, preventive health-care measures and stress-management regimens for their clients.

"Going to a spa and fitness center for a vacation can be an individual or family solution to what to do over the holidays, a way to meet like-minded people and above all, a healthy learning experience," says Renata Elden, 40, of Los Angeles. Elden, a professional hair and make-up stylist, recommends the Aveda spa in the Dominican Republic. She says that the ideal spa for boomers "would address women's and men's health, emotional and physical health, anti-aging strategies, immunity-boosting, and customized athletic training. The only problem," she says, "is that I haven't found it yet."

As it happens, the Aspen Club addresses the above mind/body needs and more. A 77,000-square-foot health club, medical facility, spa, and wellness facility which opened in late 1997, the Aspen Club appears to offer the most comprehensive array of mind/body health and medical care services available under one roof in the U.S. According to club owner Michael Fox, most of the club's clients and members range in age from the mid-40s to mid-50s. (Club services are available to members and the public by appointment. Unlike most other facilities of its kind, the Aspen Club also offers a nursery and kids’ gymnasium.)

The facilities at this boomer health mecca include a Fitness Center replete with indoor pool, full court basketball, indoor simulated ski and snowboard training studio, strength training, and other conditioning equipment. In the fitness center, personal trainers perform fitness evaluations on visitors and members. There’s also the full-service Spa Aspen with 34 treatment rooms, a full-service salon, and the Aspen SportsMedicine Institute. This area features registered physical therapists specializing in sports injuries, pain management, injury prevention and biomechanical evaluations, and a back injury clinic. Here is where you’ll find wounded ski vacationers, professional athletes, Olympic snowboarders, and others training to reach higher fitness levels. There’s also an organic food restaurant on the club’s upper level.

At Aspen Club's Center for Well Being, a team of professionals including chiropractors, acupuncturists, physicians, psychologists, exercise physiologists, and registered dietitians evaluates individuals. According to Aspen Club Fitness Director Megan Reilly, "Our individual assessments look at heredity, fitness levels, stress factors, nutrition, and pre-existing conditions to determine each guest’s specific needs, concerns and issues. Guests are encouraged to bring the most recent documentation on their own laboratory and physical exams." The final result is a custom-designed program that is far more comprehensive than the average regimen offered by most exercise physiologists or health club personal trainers.

Another exemplary mind/body wellness program is available at the Green Valley Spa and Tennis Resort. Set amid red rock canyons that are perfect for hiking and walking meditations, Green Valley gives its guests a variety of spa services, fitness classes, stress reduction seminars, meditation and spa cuisine classes to choose from.
While Green Valley’s offerings do not include the medical care available at the Aspen Club, the combination of stress-reduction classes, self-care education and hard-core tennis and hiking workouts help define one of the best kinds of fitness vacations available today.

The emergence of fitness vacations suggests that along with taking responsibility for personal health, boomers are redefining the concept of travel. Travel is now seen as an interior process as well as physical activity. Journeying toward optimum health is now viewed by boomers as being as worthwhile an adventure as backpacking through Europe once was when they were in their teens and 20s.

"Industry research indicates that boomers profoundly crave relaxation and revitalization," says Marshall. "Rather than vacationing in resorts or foreign capitals where they eat, drink or shop too much, people are looking for guilt-free ways to recharge their emotional, mental and physical reserves."

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