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Lifestyle Medicine: Opportunities for Wellness Tourism Industry


Lifestyle medicine has four major components: nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction and rest, and social support systems. Although we hear a great deal about the concept, lifestyle medicine is neither new nor alternative.

The earliest physicians believed that food was medicine. More recently, national organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, have consistently recommended that disease treatment should begin with lifestyle changes such as “diet and exercise” before medications are considered.

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, two-thirds of disease will stem from lifestyle choices. An epidemic of global proportions threatens our health and happiness. This epidemic is not of an acute infectious type, but of a chronic, degenerative nature that plagues more of us each day. This epidemic grows steadily and influences every aspect of our health.

Obesity impacts nearly all of the major threats to our health. We are an overweight population. Obesity itself is a risk factor in nearly every chronic illness that looms on the horizon. This collective weight is the price we pay for our modern lifestyles.

Health Risks

Our lifestyle is a health risk and a “Lifestyle Approach” is becoming the preferred modality for not only the prevention, but also the treatment of most chronic diseases. For the past decade, I have advocated for wellness tourism as an intentional, experiential and effective approach to wellness and preventive care.

When our health is compromised, so, too, is our happiness. According to the preliminary data for the National Vital Statistics Report, the 10 major causes of death in the United States in 2011 were:

1. Heart Disease

2. Cancer

3. Chronic lung disease

4. Stroke

5. Accidents

6. Alzheimer’s disease

7. Diabetes mellitus

8. Influenza/pneumonia

9. Kidney disease

10. Intentional self-harm

“An impressive number of studies have shown that lifestyle is the root cause of what ails us, particularly for chronic conditions,” said Dexter Shurney, M.D, assistant professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “Studies also show that changing one’s lifestyle can have a dramatic effect on health improvement, both in the prevention and treatment of disease.”

What is Wellness?

I view health as a positive concept, emphasizing social and personal resources as well as physical capabilities. Wellness is not merely the absence of disease. The term originates from the combination of well-being and wholeness and addresses human health in a holistic or comprehensive sense, assuming each person will actively participate in protecting their health.

Wellness tourism can play a huge role in supporting successful lifestyle changes. Successful health behavior change requires that individuals be ready to take charge of their own health and understand small specific steps they can take to improve.

Healthcare reform at both the national and the state level may result in strong incentives to keep patients well rather than just treating them when they’re sick.

The most successful health behavior change programs are those that provide intensive lifestyle changes, group-based support and can be offered in a community or residential setting. Wellness tourism offers individuals and groups an opportunity to practice new lifestyle skills away from their current life in a very supportive environment.

Lifestyle changes is becoming the preferred modality for not only the prevention, but also the treatment of most chronic diseases, and the “healthcare system” is not set up to support successful lifestyle changes. Obesity impacts nearly all of the major threats to our health. The cause is multifactorial and wellness tourism can address many of the elements and individuals can start to set a plan of action.

Lifestyle Changes

Health empowerment and active participation in preventing disease is a key element of successful lifestyle changes. I created a Healthy Lifestyle Solution Wheel, which contains elements that I teach and can be applied to a wellness tourism experience. Areas include specific physical activity options, relaxation and stress management techniques, healthy food planning, support networks, sleep and more.

The baby boomer generation wants to stay young and active and often has the disposable income to travel abroad for a wellness experience focused on active-ageing and optional longevity.

Stress is a major contributor to lost productivity in the workplace. The American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that 60 percent of all problems brought to physicians are stress-related. Corporations in the United States lose approximately $150 billion each year due to stress.

The childhood obesity epidemic has to be addressed through family health initiatives. More wellness tourism destinations offer more family-oriented activities, spas-for-kids, and or kids-only spa programs.

Wellness tourism offers exposure to and the experience of integrated wellness and prevention approaches to improve health and quality of life. This includes meditation, yoga, energy medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, and clients can then take that knowledge back into their healthcare support system.

Young people show a growing demand for adventure, eco facilities and wellness tourism.

About the Author

Dr. Karen Wolfe is a physician, keynoter speaker and holistic health coach with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She authored seven books includ- ing her latest, “Is Your Lifestyle Killing You: The 8 Simple Steps for Lasting Weight Loss and Optimal Health.” She is co-founder of WellPRO Inter- national, a wellness, coaching and business development company that attracts holistic minded people from all walks of life who want to inspire a creating health movement.;

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