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A guide to well-rounded wellness vacations

What makes for a satisfying wellness vacation? @latimestravel has a few guidelines

Vacations that boost your physical and mental well-being with a novel combination of adventure experiences, fitness training, no-guilt gourmet meals and stress-busting classes are finding favor with travelers who want to return home better than they left.

But wellness can be hard to define, and it may combine several elements. Here's a guide to what it usually isn't — and what it often is.

It is not just: about weight loss.

It is often: focused on healthful habits that may lead to weight loss.

"Any time I would look into any kind of retreat kind of thing, it looked like fat camp," said Eric Leib, 39, who did a four-day health and fitness retreat at VeraVia, a comprehensive luxury wellness program at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad.

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Unlike a spa getaway, it included medical evaluations, nutrition and behavioral counseling and individual physical training. Each program is customized to help clients achieve specific goals, often involving weight loss, executive health, stress management or a particular medical issue.

It is not just: extreme athletes seeking exotic adventures.

It is often: for participants who are already physically fit.

"I went rock climbing and mountain biking and all these things that I love to do," Leib said.

The Four Seasons in Vail, Colo., has had success with wellness packages that take guests on hearty mountain hikes with llamas, fly-fishing or river rafting, said general manager Mark Herron.

His guests may already be physically fit but lack the opportunity — and the requisite pampering pre- and post-adventure — to partake of adventurous pursuits.

"It's about taking care of themselves and feeling good," Herron said. Many trips are positioned as motivational rewards for families to maintain fitness the rest of the year. "This is the one experience you can't buy — you have to earn it," he said. The luxury hotel adds to the reward with gourmet picnics and expert guides.

Participants "want to be able to handle these adventures and in a way so they can tell their friends and family that they had lunch with a llama on a mountain, or did a level-five raft trip on the Arkansas River," Herron said.

It is not just: traveling to India for meditation and massage.

It is often: about introspection that can lead to replacing old habits with newer, more healthful ones.

The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona, for instance, offers a Well & Being program with packages for improving sleep and executive health that can include acupuncture, massage, counseling on nutrition and using breathing for stress reduction.

The resort is also adding a So Sound Acoustic Resonance Room that is said to help reduce guests' chronic stress, fatigue and pain by using an ergonomic lounge chair that incorporates sound and vibration to create a "musical massage" that aids relaxation and sensory integration.

It is not just: taking a week off and doing things that are good for you, then returning to your old life.

It is often: a learning vacation that enhances what you already do or leads to change.

"Whether the guest is here for business or pleasure, today's traveler is looking to maintain as much balance in their wellness lifestyle as possible, upholding their weekly exercise routines and nutritional diets," said Charlotte Prescott, director of the spa and fitness at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla.

And what's experienced can sustain what's learned. "We help people reboot their metabolism," said Kirkland Shave, program director at Mountain Trek retreats in British Columbia, which offers an accelerated exercise program, a high-nutrient diet, digital detox and counseling about nutrition, sleep and stress management. "[We] give them every tool to … adjust into a world of sugar, stress, sleeplessness and solitariness."

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