By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham
It’s that time of year again; the holiday season is in full swing and many of us will be taking some much-needed time off for rest and recuperation during the summer. But instead of lazing about on the beach, drinking cocktails, and eating ice cream, increasing numbers of Brits will, in fact, embark on ‘fitness holidays’. Instead of crash-dieting in order to get ‘beach body ready’ pre-holiday, fitness holidays aim to have you ‘beach body ready’ post-holiday, having made some lasting changes to your habits and mind-set. Little’s (2015) paper in The Geographical Journal approaches this relatively new phenomenon from a geographical point of view, considering the intrinsic links to nature and the body.
‘Fitness holidays’ represent a large and varied market, which has expanded over the past decade. Offering exercise and fitness training, combined with health and well-being programmes, fitness holidays help relieve stress, improve diet, and promote fitness. The emphasis is on enjoyment and lasting health benefits; such holidays are transformative, encouraging sustainable lifestyle changes.
Sarah Knapton (2015), Science Editor for The Telegraph, wrote in March about the increasing popularity of fitness holidays amongst Brits, attributing this trend to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, at work and at home. She contrasts the active nature of fitness holidays to what she terms ‘fly-and-flop’ holidays, characterised by idleness and excess. Citing a recent travel survey, Knapton (2015) states that one third of Brits want to ‘tone up’ whilst on holiday, and one quarter want to lose weight. In January this year, the Telegraph listed the top 10 fitness retreats for 2015. From a detox holiday in Italy (£5,249 for seven nights), to trail running in the Alps (£1,145 for seven nights), to tennis in Cyrpus (£945 for seven nights), to sea swimming in the Mediterranean (£815 for seven nights); the options for fitness holidays are not cheap, but, nevertheless, are increasing as their popularity also booms.
Little (2015) conceptualises fitness tourism using a Foucauldian approach, arguing that underlying these holidays are important questions about the management of healthy bodies. Fitness holidays are, Little (2015) argues, a response to modern pressures to conform to the ‘ideal’ body image, including aesthetic norms in relation to size, weight, and appearance. According to prevailing discourses, the ‘natural’ body, a body in its ‘natural’ state, is fit and healthy. We are increasingly encouraged to take responsibility for our own fitness, disciplining and regulating – in Foucauldian terms – our own bodies, and learning more about our corporeal ‘needs’. Fitness holidays combine all of these elements, providing a way of (self-)regulating health and fitness.
The importance of nature to health is well-known. Natural landscapes are widely recognised as therapeutic spaces, having healing and relaxation effects. Nature has become an active agent in shaping our well-being. Throughout history, due to our increasing disconnection with nature following extensive urbanisation and industrialisation, access to the countryside has been linked with a better quality of life, the clean air and pleasant surroundings acting as natural medicine. ‘Untouched’ nature is deemed to provide a more ‘authentic’ engagement with the natural landscape and, therefore, is better for human health. Thus, fitness holidays, as a means of getting people out in the fresh air and into the natural environment, have perceived beneficial qualities for health and well-being. Simultaneously reinforcing and blurring the nature-culture binary, fitness holidays emphasise the exceptional qualities of nature, whilst highlighting the ways in which nature and culture combine to produce our bodies.
So how will you be spending your summer holiday? Indulging in ice cream and cocktails whilst acquiring some unfortunate tan lines, or making a real difference to your health and well-being?
Little, J. (2015), Nature, wellbeing and the transformational self. The Geographical Journal, 181: 121–128. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12083
Knapton, S. (2015). “Britons ditch fly-and-flop holidays for fitness retreats”, The Telegraph Online. March 22nd 2015. Available at: www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11488447/Britons-ditch-fly-and-flop-holidays-for-fitness-retreats.html.