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The Latest Resorts : A New Kind of Spa Forgoes Both Frills and Fat-Farm Rigors in Favor of Fitness Re-Education

August 09, 1987|PADDY CALISTRO

WHEN PEOPLE hear the term health spa , some imagine a luxury resort in which guests are shuttled from one pampering session to another--saunas, facials, Swedish massages and so forth--in a roundelay of indulgence. Others picture fat farms where clients pay hundreds of dollars or more a week for grueling exercise and Spartan meals that scarcely relieve their hunger pangs.

Until recently, there really weren't many other choices for men and women interested in a fitness-oriented vacation. As one spa frequenter says, "there was very little out there for healthy people who want to stay that way and / or improve their condition."

Now there are spas that emphasize long-term life-style changes over short-term weight loss and beauty treatments. These programs--called fitness retreats by some spa directors--are based on a philosophy that experts such as Dr. Steven Blair, director of epidemiology at the Institute for Aerobic Research in Dallas, have espoused: A steady regimen of varied, enjoyable exercises and nutritious meals--rather than crash-course workouts and 700-calorie-a-day diets--is the surest way to enduring fitness.

Fitness retreats, such as Genesis, a 15-acre facility that opened in June in Park City, Utah, customize each client's program based on evaluations by medical experts and exercise physiologists. "We prescribe the sports, exercise and diet that apply to an individual's needs," says John Sloan, Genesis director.

Sloan says that the Genesis staff takes into account the client's work and other factors that could affect his or her well-being. He says that one of the spa's goals is to send the client home not only with a realistic diet and exercise program but also with a plan for coping with stress.

Sloan calls Genesis "a vacation with a purpose." Every aspect of the program is under the guidance of an expert such as a kinesiologist or internist. "Medicine was getting the short shrift at health spas," Sloan says. "That was because spa operators and guests were intimidated by a scientific, university-research-type approach. Today, people are more knowledgeable about their fitness needs. The scientific approach appeals to them."

Genesis clients do without some luxuries associated with spas. "If someone came here for a suntan and a body wrap, she would be disappointed," says one client. Instead, participants might hike seven miles under a kinesiologist's direction or work out on a treadmill monitored by a nurse. High-tech fitness is not inexpensive; a week at Genesis can cost between $1,200 and $2,000.

A less expensive retreat is Lakeside Health Resort in Lake Elsinore, where clients are evaluated by nurses and exercise classes are designed to accommodate all levels of fitness. A one-week stay ranges from $500 to $900.

Fitness retreats further distinguish themselves from other spas in terms of the kinds of meals they serve. Spas are known for minimalist cuisine that may be attractively presented but is difficult to duplicate at home and is far too unsatisfying for most families' appetites. Fitness retreats, in contrast, plan nutritious menus that participants learn to prepare at home.

Another difference is the emphasis that fitness retreats place on behavior modification. "Very few people are taught how to live their lives," says Judy Fabling, program director and fitness consultant at Lakeside. "We teach clients how to handle day-to-day stress. The idea is to balance a high-stress episode with a relaxing one--a jog, some yoga, whatever suits them. This is something they can take home with them."

Cross-training , the buzzword that fitness experts use to describe a varied workout program, is a key element at fitness retreats. "People will only make exercise a part of their lives when it is fun," Sloan says. "Variety in exercise is what makes it fun." Genesis clients learn to alternate sports such as tennis or swimming with exercises like weightlifting or walking, he says. "They incorporate these activities into their lives and actually enjoy them, not dread them."

As an increasingly fitness-minded society learns more sophisticated methods of improving health and well-being, "vacations with a purpose" may transcend trendiness and become an enduring way of revitalizing oneself and one's commitment to fitness.

Stylist: Laura Kahn.

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