Cohen M, Elliott F, Oates L, Schembri A, and Mantri N. (2017) Wellness Tourists Get Well? An Observational Study of Multiple Dimensions of Health and Well-Being After a Week-Long Retreat. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. ahead of print. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0268 [Pub Med] [PDF]
Background: Wellness retreats use many complementary and alternative therapies within a holistic residential
setting, yet few studies have evaluated the effect of retreat experiences on multiple dimensions of health
and well-being, and no published studies have reported health outcomes in wellness tourists.
Objectives: To assess the effect of a week-long wellness-retreat experience in wellness tourists.
Design: A longitudinal observational study with outcomes assessed upon arrival and departure and 6 weeks
after the retreat.
Setting: A rural health retreat in Queensland, Australia.
Interventions: A holistic, 1-week, residential, retreat experience that included many educational, therapeutic,
and leisure activities and an organic, mostly plant-based diet.
Outcome measures: Multiple outcome measures were performed upon arrival and departure and 6 weeks
after the retreat. These included anthropometric measures, urinary pesticide metabolites, a food and health
symptom questionnaire, the Five Factor Wellness Inventory, the General Self Efficacy questionnaire, the
Pittsburgh Insomnia Rating Scale, the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale, the Profile of Mood States, and the
Cogstate cognitive function test battery.
Results: Statistically significant improvements ( p < 0.05) were seen in almost all measures (n = 37) after
1 week and were sustained at 6 weeks (n = 17). There were statistically significant improvements ( p < 0.001)
in all anthropometric measures after 1 week, with reductions in abdominal girth (2.7 cm), weight (1.6 kg),
and average systolic and diastolic pressure (-16.1 mmHg and -9.3 mmHg, respectively). Statistically significant
improvements ( p < 0.05) were also seen in psychological and health symptom measures. Urinary
pesticide metabolites were detected in pooled urine samples before the retreat and were undetectable after
Conclusion: Retreat experiences can lead to substantial improvements in multiple dimensions of health and
well-being that are maintained for 6 weeks. Further research that includes objective biomarkers and economic
measures in different populations is required to determine the mechanisms of these effects and assess the value
and relevance of retreat experiences to clinicians and health insurers.