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Why 'wellness vacations' are the hottest trend in travel

Wellness tourism is travel intended to integrate healthful habits into the trip in both big and small ways

Eric Leib works in fast-paced advertising sales, which frequently has him courting clients over dinner and drinks.

It was taking a toll. He had gained about 15 pounds; his body ached, and he felt lethargic. Unable to get solutions from his medical doctor, he searched for a way to reestablish a healthful lifestyle.

Like a growing number of travelers, he found it at a wellness program. His four-day health and fitness retreat at a Carlsbad resort helped him achieve his goals by focusing on feeling good as the end result.

"I wouldn't say it was a totally relaxing experience," Leib said, "but at the end of it, I felt better than I normally do coming back from vacation."

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That may explain why wellness tourism has become a $494-billion industry whose growth is expected to continue, according to the Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit educational foundation that promotes wellness.

More people are taking responsibility for their health, partly in reaction to aging, the increase in lifestyle diseases such as arthritis, obesity and depression, and the failure of conventional medicine to address certain chronic conditions, the institute's report said.

Couple those concerns with an opportunity to escape the workaday world at an upscale hotel, and it's a match made in wellness heaven.

But, you say, this trend isn't new; spas and spa vacations have been increasing for years. How is this different? And what constitutes wellness travel?

Wellness tourism encompasses hospitality, health, beauty, medicine and fitness. It is travel intended to integrate healthful habits into the trip in both small ways — organic snacks in the minibar — and big, such as new hotel brands created to sustain or improve exercise routines, diets and even sleep.

Four out of five wellness tourists integrate healthful activities and habits into their trips to counteract interrupted routines that affect sleep, diet and exercise. One in five takes trips with the intention of making some form of health and wellness the goal of the trip, said Beth McGroarty, research director at the Global Wellness.

"Vacation time has become precious, and people can't afford to feel more stressed, sicker and tired from them," McGroarty said. "Now you use the vacation to make yourself feel better."

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