Anti-aging vacations are little more than repackaged services

October 21, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Resorts nationwide are offering a dream vacation: Come as you are; go home younger.

The Internet and spa industry publications brim with "anti-aging" vacation packages. There are adventure trips and fitness destinations designed to turn older bodies into harder bodies. There are spa packages that pitch optimal- and anti-aging seminars, aromatherapy, facials and nutrition sessions to slow down - or even turn back - the biological clock.

But, with the exception of newer medical services at a number of resorts, spa offerings haven't changed too much. It's the marketing of repackaged services and advice that has gotten more aggressive. The International Spa Association reports a strong trend toward branding and retailing within the U.S. spa industry.

Four of the first 10 pages of the most recent Spa Finder magazine feature advertisements for "anti-aging" skin products. One section of the magazine is devoted to spas with medical programs, including clinics that offer comprehensive physicals, diagnostic testing and lifestyle guidance to help clients develop plans to live healthier - and thus longer. The number of medical spas in the United States jumped from 93 in 1997 to 225 today, according to the International Spa Association


In the Tri-State area, Coolfont Resort's Spa and Wellness Center in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., invites guests to "live longer and better" through services such as acupuncture and massage, but the resort doesn't market its wellness programs as anti-aging services, Spa Director Debra Sensel says.

"I'd want to be able to deliver it," she says.

Utah's Red Mountain Spa, Georgia's Mountain of Youth resort and Arizona's Canyon Ranch Health Resort are among dozens of destinations that say they can.

The Mountain of Youth boasts a physician-supervised "anti-aging boot camp" that's offerings include advice for reversing the biomarkers of aging and cardiovascular risk factors, reducing wrinkles and improving immunity to disease, according to the program's Web site at

Red Mountain's stay-young options include seminars, aromatherapy sessions and facials, according to its Web site at

"A spa vacation at Red Mountain Spa will provide balance, lifestyle education, healthy nutrition and exercise to create the ultimate anti-aging strategy," the Web site states.

Canyon Ranch's Optimal Aging program uses medical technology, exercise, nutrition and stress reduction strategies to develop longevity plans for participants, according to the resort's Web site at

"You can't change your chronological age, but you can influence your biological age," the Web site states. "Through comprehensive examinations and lab tests, Canyon Ranch physicians will assess your aging profile, risks and indicators of your biological age."

The weeklong program costs about $5,000 - big bucks that an increasing number of consumers are willing to spend to feel younger longer.

The number of U.S. spa visits increased by 71 percent between 1999 and 2001, with revenues totaling nearly $11 billion in 2001, according to the The International Spa Association's 2002 study of the spa industry in the United States and Canada. The study also found that medical-type products and services and food- and plant-based treatments have gained widespread popularity.

Many anti-aging packages include intensive nutrition services that proponents say will foster longevity. Of course a healthy diet will help you live longer - but it takes more than a short trip to an expensive spa to eat right for life, nutrition experts say.

"People want to go to a spa for a week and anti-age, but it takes more than that. It takes work," says Jackie Graff, a registered nurse, nutritionist and master raw food chef for Sprout Raw Food in Roswell, Ga. "It's not what you do for that week that's important. It's what you do every day that's important. It's not just about food. It's a total lifestyle change."

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