Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

Essential reading if you're looking for an excuse to book that dream holiday
7 reasons to go on a wellness retreat

Despite arriving with all the best intentions, the first few hours of a wellness retreat can be overwhelming.

Unlike checking in at a fancy hotel, you probably won’t be handed a glass of fizz and given a cool towel – instead, you can expect an alcohol-free shake and a timetable of exercise classes.

So why are more and more people choosing to swap their summer holiday for a mindfulness-packed wellness retreat, and what are the benefits?

The word retreat means “an act of moving back or withdrawing” and this is definitely what you’ll experience. Without the distraction of your everyday life, you’ll find yourself focusing on elements you might normally ignore or attempt to cram into your hectic schedule, like exercise and eating healthy, nutritious meals.

But do wellness retreats actually work? In a 2017 study on the benefits of wellness retreats, researchers found after a one-week holistic, residential retreat, participants showed substantial improvements in their psychological and physical health.

The most interesting statistic, however, is that six weeks later these substantial improvements were still being displayed. Researchers concluded, “these results suggest that retreat participants enjoyed benefits over and above the ‘vacation effect’ from being away from routine domestic and work activities.”

What kind of wellness retreat is right for me?

7 reasons to go on a wellness retreat

The most important part of any wellness retreat will be the activities at its heart. Some retreats will have a strong holistic focus, with a schedule packed with scrubs, spa treatments and relaxation.

Some will be centred around helping you sleep better, or balancing your hormones. Others will have more of an exercise focus, helping you shed pounds and learn new skills.

A lot of wellness retreats will be run by a host of experts in their field, so if you do want to focus on a particular area you need help with, it’s a good opportunity to do your homework and work out who you’d like to be taught by.

Is it ok to go alone?

Yes, definitely. While booking a holiday alone might seem overwhelming, going on a wellness retreat alone is almost recommended.

As cliched as it might sound, on a retreat you’ll learn a lot about yourself, so sometimes doing this alone can help you focus on the areas of your life you’d like to change when you get home.

Travelling alone will also encourage you to meet like-minded individuals on your programme and form new friendships.

7 reasons to go on a wellness retreat

Will I get bored with all that spare time?

Whether you know someone else on the retreat, or you’ve signed up to go alone, the large gaps of free time might seem a little daunting. Some wellness retreats will have optional extras, such as yoga classes, meditation sessions or cookery lessons to sign up to if you are keen to fill your free time.

That said, as your days are filled with tailored experiences to help you reach your goal, you’ll often find that you’re grateful for the downtime.

Most retreats won’t have much of a nightlife, with the focus being on resting and recharging, while others won’t have Wi-Fi at all, so take a couple of books to keep you entertained in the evening.

At first, this silence might make you a little fidgety, but give your mind time to relax and recharge and you’ll definitely feel better for it on the way home.

What are the benefits of going on a wellness retreat?

1. Time to focus and learn new skills

Whether you’ve signed up to an intensive reformer pilates course in Thailand, or a HIIT bootcamp in Ibiza, a wellness retreat is a time to really focus on exercise. In your normal nine-to-five lifestyle, you’ll often find working out is something you have to fit into your lunch break or commute, so actually having an extended period of time, without any distractions, can be transformational.

Often, wellness retreats will find expert tutors to visit and teach classes, which will be much more intimate than those you might attend at home. The retreat will sometimes involve a body composition assessment and, if your goal is to transform your body, or lose weight, the retreat will focus around this.

In the same study into the benefits of wellness retreats, published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers found that unlike a diet or gym challenge, six weeks after their one-week retreat, on average participants had lost 2.7cm around their waist, had lower blood pressure and had lost 1.6kg of weight.

Book this: Fusion Fitness Thanyapura Health and Sports Resort, Thailand

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

On your seven night stay at Fusion you'll get a 30-minute medical consultation, and try an activity or treatment each day. There's functional training, TRX and kettlebell classes so you can sweat harder than most retreats, but when it comes to learning a new skill, the Muay Thai – essentially Thai boxing – sessions seriously caught our eye as something to get out of a fitness rut.

Price: From £840/$1,082 per person

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2. Eat well on holiday

On a wellness retreat, you can expect a menu packed with healthy food to help you eat well, detox and feel better. The extend to which you embrace that – or wish to take it – is up to you.

Some wellness retreats will involve fasting or raw diets, or an element of both. We can debate the benefits of fasting all day, but if trying a completely new diet and way of eating appeals to you, a wellness retreat could be for you. The Detox Barn in Surrey UK, for example, offers plant based detox, while Vital Detox involves juice fasting until the penultimate day when a raw food feast is laid on.

Does fasting sound a bit too much punishment for a holiday? That's fine – most retreats put an emphasis on meat, dairy and gluten free diets so you should be taking on your five-a-day.

In fact, a number of studies have shown the importance of diet when it comes to mental wellbeing; a 2014 study published in the British Medical Journal found that higher levels of wellbeing were reported in individuals who consumed more fruit and vegetables.

Furthermore, a 2019 study found a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with fish oil, can improve mental health in adults suffering with depression.

Book this: Lake Austin Spa Resort, Texas

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

Slightly less hardcore than many retreats on this list – Lake Austin Spa Resort's fitness activities are a little less hectic. Explore the countryside, floating yoga on a stand-up paddleboard, canyon hikes and meditation are all on the agenda. There's a lakefront dining room, and all meals in the French-themed kitchen are created with ingredients from their own organic gardens. Who says fitness retreats need to be all raw food and fasting?

Price: From £588/$759 per person per night

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3. Feel-good treatments

Some wellness retreats will have a real holistic focus, with a timetable packed with massages and spa treatments. Others will fit these relaxing moments into the downtime around exercise, but either way, you can expect a strong focus on relaxation.

If you have a specific goal in mind for your retreat, such as reducing anxiety or rebalancing your hormones, it’s a good idea to bring this up in your health consultation beforehand, in order to get the most out of your time away.

Book this: Komune Resort and Beach Club, Bali

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

At Komune Resort you have three spa treatments included in your stay, so chill out with a traditional Balinese massage, aromatherapy or reflexology. You can then fuel back up with delicious Indonesian fusion dishes from the resort's beach club restaurant.

Price: From £1,245 per person for six nights' accommodation, breakfast, a fitness programme and private transfers

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4. Time to give yourself a digital detox

Wellness retreats are often set in beautiful locations that take you away from the city and help you unwind in nature, meaning there’s never been a better time for a digital detox. And there are plenty of retreat options for those desperate for enforced time away from phones, laptops and tablets.

A recent Cyber Psychology review concluded that “many studies on social media usage and mental health have shown that the prolonged use of social media such as Facebook is positively associated with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression and negatively associated with long-term wellbeing.”

Researchers in the 2017 retreat study also concluded: “Limiting the use of electronic media and devices, as well as supporting natural circadian rhythms by having participants rise shortly after dawn and retire shortly after nightfall, probably contributed to the improvements in perceived stress and sleep immediately after the retreat, with improved sleep contributing to improvements in cognition.”

Book this: 42 Acres, UK

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

At 42 Acres you cam voluntarily hand over your devices to really unplug – or you can keep hold of them reassured that the lack of Wi-Fi and phone signal will render them redundant anyway. You’ll feel better for it.

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5. Meet like-minded people

7 reasons to go on a wellness retreat

If you look at a retreat itinerary and jump at the idea of a seven-day juice cleanse or four-hour daily hike, the chances are, the people you meet on the trip will have done too. A wellness retreat is a great place to meet new friends who have the same goals as you do.

There are fitness and wellness retreats catered for singles where a high percentage of people tend to be solo travellers. That should allay fears of being the only solo person trapped in a remote lodge of loved-up couples.

And some retreats are also female-only, which has the double benefit of being free from annoying fitness dudes and means you get an experience more tailored for you.

Book this: In:Spa Retreats

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

In:Spa Retreats has a range of fitness and wellness breaks, which are suited for solo and single travellers. The company claims that 70% of those who attend an In:Spa Retreat do so on their own – and keep soppy, insular couples to a minimum.

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6. Break unhealthy habits

While a week might not seem long enough to transform your life, often you’ll find that people return from a wellness retreat will a completely new mindset. Whether you’ve found yourself stuck in a rut, or want to nourish your body after a particular life event, taking time out to focus on yourself can help you ditch unhealthy habits that might be holding you back at home.

When analysing the data of participants six weeks after their retreat, researchers commented, “Together these findings suggest that the retreat experience helped participants gain control over their life and make positive adjustments to their lifestyles that led to health improvements that continued after they returned to their regular routines”.

Book this: Luxe Retreats, Vilamoura

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

If you're looking to not only break unhealthy habits but also make some good new routines, then Luxe Retreats should be high on your list. Each morning starts with a sunrise yoga or a meditation session – and routines don't get more physically and mentally wholesome than that. What's more, you'll take part in one or two classes throughout the day such as HIIT, strength training or core and abs.

Price: From £700 per person for a six-night stay

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7. Refresh yourself

Sure, you might learn that you don’t like kale, or that actually, surfing isn’t really your vibe, but you could also learn some new things about yourself.

Whether that’s how much better you feel following a healthier diet, how much pilates helps your anxiety, or something far more profound, with a focus on relaxation and self-discovery, whatever kind of wellness retreat you choose, the aim is to send you home refreshed and renewed, and ready to take on the challenges of your everyday life.

Book this: BodyHoliday

Seven physical and mental benefits of wellness retreats – and where to go

BodyHoliday offers different programmes throughout the year, such as yoga in October and a family focus in July and August. However, it's all about activities, with everything from cricket to volleyball, running the Fitness Trail and hitting up watersports.

Every guest receives one complimentary treatment a day, and there are six restaurants where you can enjoy fresh dishes such as grilled fish, stone-baked pizza and salads. Oh and they serve alcohol with a Wine Salon on-site. Hey, it's a holiday after all.

Price: From £387/$500 per person per night

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Tagged    Yoga