Health and wellness retreats are interesting concepts: you pay a healthy chunk of change to eat less, exercise, and confront your issues. 0h – and you get lots of spa treatments.
At least, that was my impression of this type of getaway. I imagined mostly wealthy women already in great shape pampering themselves further. And from what I hear, this isn’t too far off the mark at some wellness getaways.
I was curious, so I checked out one that ultimately surprised and delighted me. It had some of the above, but here’s an interesting twist: I never spoke to two people who were there for the same reason. Another way of saying this is that the stereotypes of wellness resorts are not even remotely accurate.
I stayed at Hilton Head Health, a retreat tucked away in a gated community shared by private homes, golf courses and lagoons, and the Sonesta Resort. The property is small, housing up to only 65 people in either private homes or in the inn. There is one swimming pool, multiple fitness rooms depending on the types of workouts, a dining room, and a separate spa building nestled in the palms.
It’s impossible not to meet people while staying there. You begin to see the same faces at classes, at the pool, and especially at mealtime. Tables seat a minimum of four, so if you’re sitting alone, it’s not for long. Someone will approach and ask if they can join you, and that’s when the conversation begins.
And the conversation almost always centers on what brought you here. That’s where things get interesting. I met the following:
A man who has to lose a lot of weight in preparation for gastric bypass surgery. He’s there for three months, on a structured program, working remotely.
A woman who completed her breast cancer treatments, was declared cancer free, and came to celebrate with her mom, who called her daughter “my hero.”
A woman who lost 90 lbs. five years ago, saw her weight creeping up, and decided she needed a reset.
Two sisters, one of whom lost her husband unexpectedly two years ago, went into a downward spiral and a very dark place, and said, “Next year on the anniversary of his death, I’m taking care of myself. I’m going to make sure I’m in a healthy place with support.” She brought her sister along, and although she was still sad, in her own words, “Thank God, I’m not where I was a year ago. Thank God I’m here.”
I met people who needed to cut down on their drinking, people who have physical limitations and needed to be somewhere that honored that, and people who appeared perfectly fit and were just there to take a healthy vacation.
Over 50 percent were repeaters, which speaks volumes about both their experiences there and their takeaways. All were kind, open, and fun to be around.
As for me, I discovered that I can go on vacation without eating enormous meals, without a cocktail in my hand, and without lazing about all day. Vacations can be active, healthy, and mindful. They can actually help you hit the reset button towards a healthier lifestyle.
I tried to do it all (per usual, but this time, I left feeling great). On the first morning, I did a 7:15 am sunrise beach walk that was the perfect start to the day. I followed that with a boxing workout where the instructor got down and dirty on form and technique, something you rarely get in a gym setting. Next, I moved on to a pool noodle class. I had inwardly scoffed at it, but I thought I owed it to myself to see if I could get a good workout in the pool, and guess what? I could! I basically had to eat crow on that one.
Throughout the next few days, I did a circuit training class, attended a lecture on rethinking drinking, learned how to meditate – and the multiple benefits of just 10 minutes a day of switching off your mind – and watched a cooking demonstration on how to prepare gourmet meals with healthy ingredients.
Speaking of food, it was delicious and in proper portions, meaning the portions looked extremely small in comparison to what we Americans are used to. But they were proper – they were exactly what we should be eating – and it was a huge wakeup call. We don’t need all the food we think we do, and just because we’re presented with a huge plate doesn’t mean we need to eat it. Snacks were packaged in appropriately sized bags so you could see exactly how many nuts make a serving and how many more carrots you can enjoy, if you choose that option. And water was everywhere, as it should be, and encouraged over every other beverage.
I got a bike for the week, and every evening after dinner, no matter how tired I was, I hopped on my bike for a solitary ride around the island. The breeze blew my hair and the trees whispered to me as I pedaled by. I stopped to watch a family of deer, cringed just a little as an alligator slid into a lagoon, and took a picture of a heron pruning his feathers, the sunset glistening on his back.
Would I recommend a health retreat? Absolutely, and especially this one. Hilton Head Health is all about overall wellness, of the body, the mind, and the spirit. It’s so nice to come home from a vacation feeling healthy and strong, to do something that really is just for you, and to be reminded how grateful we all should be for strong bodies and good health.