Preventative health - how to take control of your wellbeing

In 2001, a paper in medical journal The Lancet found that poor diet, being overweight or obese and physical inactivity accounted for 7.3 million deaths around the world. If you add in diseases that can, in some cases, stem from lifestyle choices, it reaches 25.9 million. That’s nearly one in 200 people around the world dying from the lifestyle choices we make: skydiving, bungee jumping and boxing are all safer.

But overall our health has been getting better, right? We have a modern NHS, people are no longer dying of diseases such as polio, chicken pox or whooping cough. In 2014, the NHS published a strategy paper which said: “if the nation fails to get serious about prevention […] our ability to fund beneficial new treatments will be crowded-out by the need to spend billions of pounds on wholly avoidable illness.”

Taking care of yourself

woman in sunshine smiling

Some areas of preventative health, including regular check-ups and screening for major illnesses and diseases, are tied to medical practitioners. But managing your lifestyle is something you can look after, and will help manage your risk of diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

The World Health Organization says: “people can remain healthy into their seventh, eighth and ninth decades, through a range of health-promoting behaviours, including healthy diets, and regular, adequate physical activity”. Healthy eating and exercise are the simplest actions you can take, although they are sometimes hard to put in practice, especially during the festive season.

Making lifestyle changes may be one of the toughest things you’ll ever do, as you’ll be going against long-held behaviours and habits. A 2011 study published in the BMJ found that people who lost weight in groups (such as Weight Watchers and Slimming World) lost just over three times the amount of weight compared to those going it alone. Making the decision to take responsibility for your own health might just be easier if you seek a little help along the way.


Technology and preventative healthcare have been closely linked since the pedometer became fashionable in the late 80s. There’s expensive hardware such as the Apple Watch which can (among other things) track your movement, but if your budget doesn’t quite run to hundreds of pounds, then an app might fill its place. Vida, for example, connects you via your mobilephone to a health coach giving you support to get fit, lose weight, manage pre-diabetes or overcome anxiety for as little as £35 a month.

If you’re already diving into managing your own health, genetic testing could help you discover more about your body and tolerances, helping you create your optimal routine. DNA testing is currently en vogue, from the rather scary disease predisposition testing (would you want to know that you’re most likely to die from coronary artery disease?), to testing which will help your lifestyle decisions without the faint sounding of a death knell, such as iamyiam and 23andme.

If talk of technology makes you want to lie down, spas can help with the more traditional means of preventative health.

What can spas do to help?

Couple spa

Spas are best placed to support and maybe even jump start your health plans. Cookery schools, mindful eating classes, walk-to-run retreats, talking therapy and personal trainers can all give you the information you need to continue on your journey to a healthy lifestyle. Just one caveat: health experts suggest talking to your doctor before you begin a new exercise programme if you have a major illness including heart disease, asthma, diabetes and kidney disease.

Nutrition and diet

Healthy food

Learning more about what and how you eat has been part of the spa establishment for many years. Grayshott Medical Spa in Surrey runs a celebrated gut health programme where you spend seven days learning about food and nutrition. At Champneys’ resorts, food is designed by nutritionists and dieticians; even the plates show you what proportion of food should be carbohydrates, proteins, fats etc.

Learning to cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients can also be an important step toward eating well. Cookery schools at spa hotels including Lucknam Park Hotel and Spa in Wiltshire, Pennyhill Hotel and Spa in Surrey, and Chewton Glen in Hampshire all offer courses on cooking with local ingredients, allowing to make your own decision on what exactly goes in your meals.

Get outdoors

Walking outdoors

From gorgeous grounds ripe for an afternoon wander to regimented fitness retreats, you can choose your level of exercise at spas. Stobo Castle in Peebleshire, Barnsley House Hotel in the Cotswolds and Lifehouse Spa in Essex all have gardens to get lost in, from a Japanese water garden to a horticultural masterpiece, and a summerhouse beloved of J.M Barrie.

If you’re ready to step up your exercise regime, Ragdale Hall Spa in Leicestershire has fitness breaks, from running and dancercise to Nordic walking. Limewood in Hampshire offers fitness retreats with celeb personal trainer Matt Roberts, or attend a Fitter Stronger retreat at Chewton Glen or Brandshatch Place in Kent with Olympian James Cracknell.

Yoga and Pilates classes are offered in a multitude of spas; sign up for longer retreats or one-to-one classes at Ockenden Manor in West Sussex, Gleneagles in Perthshire or The Bulgari Spa in London.

Yoga outdoors

Health and lifestyle coaching

Much more prolific in the US, some UK spas are embracing health-verging-onmedical support. Champneys offer health retreats on the menopause, sleep and type 2 diabetes. As well as gut health, Grayshott also has recovery retreats post-cancer or illness or surgery, while Grace Belgravia in London has a medical clinic run by the Queen’s GP, Dr Tim Evans, offering everything from diagnostic testing to osteopathy and dermatology. 

  • Author

    Summer Spy

  • Age 30s
  • Skin type Oily/combination

Spa Likes

"Warmth and sunshine; spas which take me away to another country; fruit infused waters; beach-worth pedicures; deep tissue massages."

Spa Dislikes

"High footfalls; treatments that over promise and under deliver; heavy lunches; loungers drapped in used towels."