Time to Spa

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Spas Target Midlife Women with Rejuvenating Treatments for the Body and Mind

I’ve just spent 30 minutes soaking in a tub of bubbling water scented with lavender oil while a massage therapist gently worked the kinks out of my neck and shoulders. Tomorrow, a Swedish massage, facial and salt scrub await, interspersed with a Pilates class, a power walk and a healthy (I mean really healthy) lunch. My partner in crime? My sister Marsha.

This is our third “sisters’ spa weekend,” a tradition begun to celebrate my 40th birthday, but one, I now realize, that also serves as a special time out from the vagaries of daily life, a time for reflection, bonding and reconnection as my sister and I move into a new phase of our lives –– both emotionally and physically.

So I’m not surprised as I sit in the cozy lobby of the Spa at Chateau Elan outside Atlanta, Ga., to see a group of white-robed, middle-aged women gather on the overstuffed sofa near me for an in-depth discussion of hot flashes and hormones.

The typical spa visitor these days –– whether to a “destination spa” like Chateau Elan or a day spa at the local mall –– is a woman in her mid-40s to 50s experiencing some life changes, industry experts note. In fact, numerous spas around the country have developed programs targeting just this woman –– providing seminars, treatments and packages designed to relieve symptoms of menopause, enhance psychological well-being and provide women with the information and tools they need to move into this next phase of their life –– healthy and beautiful.

Women like Carol Benson, 49, of El Dorado, Arkansas. She first attended a three-week session at Green Mountain at Fox Run in Ludlow, Vt., with her sister when she was in her late forties. “It was a very stressful time for me,” says the high school English teacher. She was in the process of separating from her husband of 25 years and deep into perimenopause. Her time at the spa, she says, “made it all easier.”

“I learned to listen to myself and take care of myself. And I learned the importance of things I never understood before, like how much regular exercise has to do with how I feel about myself.” Today, she walks two miles four or five mornings a week and does some light weight lifting, a routine she attributes to her time at Green Mountain. “I learned you didn’t have to be hard core to get the benefits of a good exercise program,” she says.

More than a Vacation

While the word “spa” evokes images of pampered rich women sitting in mud baths, today’s spas offer much more, everything from the traditional massage to exotic energy treatments, exercise programs, fitness evaluations and even “lunchtime” facials.

In fact, the International Spa Association reports that medical spas, where treatments range from laser hair removal to collagen injections and nutritional assessments, are the fastest growing niche in the spa business, accounting for about 18 percent of all spas in the United States.

“Today’s spas are increasingly focused on health and wellness,” says Betsy Smith Isroelit of Spa Finder Inc., a spa marketing organization. “A number of spas offer excellent programs for mid-life women.” Among them:

Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah. The average age of clients is 45 and a “menopausal typing” program is on the menu of offerings.

The Springs of Clifton in Ontario County, N.Y. It provides its clients with everything from the traditional pedicure and massage to health consultations with naturopathic doctors, acupuncture, herbal medicine and supplements to aid in the mid-life physical transition. “We want to address the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of this time of life,” says Program Director Charlotte Wytias, R.N.

Agua Serena Spa at the Hyatt Grand Champions Resort and Spa in Indian Wells, Calif. Board-certified gynecologist Richard M. Foxx, M.D., oversees the Medical and Skin Spa where he offers everything from Botox injections to hormone therapy. During the spa’s “Active Aging Weekends,” women receive three days of sunrise walks and meditation paired with a comprehensive physical examination, meditation, yoga and skin analysis.

St. Joseph Institute’s Wellness Center in central Pennsylvania. Women from as far as Florida and California come for health evaluations and customized treatment plans based on their individual symptoms and concerns, says Director of Marketing Christie Black. The center even provides midlife women with a comprehensive information sheet on menopause issues.

New Age Health Spa, a destination spa in the Catskill region of New York. Several programs and treatments designed specifically for menopausal women are available, says spokesperson Patricia Fahie, including lectures on herbs for reproductive health.

But you don’t have to go hundreds of miles to some marbled resort to benefit from a spa treatment. Even an hour-long massage at one of the more than 2,000 day spas around the country can relieve menopause symptoms, if only temporarily, says Renee Auriemma, a licensed massage therapist at Emerson Place Spa and Lodge in New York’s Catskill mountains.

“It helps improve circulation, relax muscles, improve joint mobility and promote healthy skin,” she says.

“Facials are particularly great for menopausal women, because changing hormones definitely affects the condition of their skin,” says Kim Rossi, spa director at Emerson Place. Not only does a spa facial send you out glowing, but the aesthetician should analyze your skin, letting you know where you’re dry, oily, etc., and recommending a home skin-care regimen to follow.

Auriemma also recommends reflexology, a form of massage for the ears, hands and feet. “A lot of women have body issues at this time in their life,” she says. With reflexology, a woman doesn’t have to completely undress. Yet pressure points on those parts of the body stimulate the entire body, providing most of the benefits of full-body massage.

Still think spas are only about indulgence? Well, consider a study by spa specialist Mary Tabacchi, Ph.D., a professor in Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, N.Y. She found that people who visit “destination spas” are more likely to have more mental and physical energy and improved agility, have exercised enthusiastically and report increased fitness levels than those who just took a regular old vacation.

They were also more likely to:

  • Understand themselves much better
  • Report that friends and family saw a positive change in them
  • Feel more cared for

“A lot of women are searching for ways to manage this stage of their lives,” says Rossi. “So a spa today is more than just a treat. It’s a way of learning new behaviours to manage their health through this new time of life.”

Getting the Spa Experience at Home

You say you don’t have the time or money to head to a fancy spa? No problem. You can create your own spa experience at home. All it takes is a few key ingredients (and getting your partner and kids out of the house).

First, prepare. Plan a day when you have nothing else on your calendar, and you can have the house to yourself. Hit the local bath shop and stock up on lavender- or rosemary-scented essential oils and creams, an apricot-scented facial scrub/exfoliator, sea salt skin exfoliator, pumice stone, nail polish and remover, relaxing CDs and scented candles. Splurge on two thick, white towels and a white terrycloth bathrobe, the thicker the better.

Stock the fridge with bottled water, salad, shredded, pre-cooked chicken, fresh fruit and the most decadent cookies you can find.

The morning of your spa day, lock all the doors and turn off the phone, Blackberry, cell phone and computer. Load up the CD player with the soothing music you’ve selected, light all the scented candles and aromatherapy diffusers and pour yourself a tall glass of icy water with a slice of lemon.

Now sit in the quiet of your home sipping your water, listening to the music and smelling the scents, and breathe deeply, in and out, for at least five minutes. Next, follow our Changes Home Spa To-Do List. It doesn’t matter in which order you perform the following, but make sure you cross off every item on the list.

  • Scrub your entire body with exfoliating scrub
  • Soak in a warm, scented bath with a cool cloth over your eyes
  • Give yourself a home facial by exfoliating, plucking and moisturizing
  • Give your hair a deep moisturizing treatment
  • Give yourself a pedicure and manicure
  • Take a nap
  • Watch a great movie
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Read all the fashion magazines and catalogs in the house
  • Lunch on chicken Caesar salad and fresh fruit and save the cookies for afternoon tea