Wellness and fitness merging more and more

Fitness and WellnessHamburg - The word "wellness" is often understood as relaxation and "kicking back": soaking up energy at a spa, whiling away stress in a whirlpool.

Nearly forgotten is the fact that the wellness wave, which rose more than 30 years ago in the United States, was at first mainly a health movement propagating stress avoidance, a balanced diet, and exercise.

The wave is now returning to its original, more active form in Germany, where fitness centres, sport clubs and tanning studios are putting more emphasis on wellness.

"Exercise is a pillar of a wellness lifestyle," the Dusseldorf- based German Wellness Association declares - a sign of how the concepts of wellness and fitness are gradually merging.

Take for example, the city of Essen's FIBO, launched more than 20 years ago as a "fitness and bodybuilding trade show." FIBO now bills itself "the leading international trade show for fitness and wellness."

Bernhard Berskewiz, a master of public health from Dusseldorf, said that fitness centres in particular were offering wellness services aimed solely at relaxation.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a modern fitness facility without a wellness area," agreed Refit Kamberovic of the Hamburg-based German Association of Fitness Centres. He said that most of the nearly 6,000 fitness centres across the country had long included a sauna.

Be it a classic Finnish sauna or gentler "bio sauna," hydro- massage shower or massage couch, "you've simply got to have a cool- down area nowadays," Kamberovic remarked. One of the reasons for this, he said, was that the average age of visitors had risen: "Twenty-five years ago it was just over 20, but now it's around 38."

The older clientele is more health-conscious. "There's a greater demand for medical fitness, and instead of power aerobics, older visitors prefer to take it a little easier," Kamberovic noted. As health checks and supervised workouts now play a larger role, fitness centre personnel has to be more qualified, he said.

Tanning studios have seen a similar development. "Hardly anyone wants turbo-tanning any more," remarked Leopold Neumann, spokesman for Endingen-based Photomed, Germany's national association of tanning studios. The proportion of people over 35 years of age is noticeably increasing, he said. "For them it's not so important to look tanned at a party. They want to relax and are looking for a health effect."

More and more tanning studios are broadening their range of services as a result, Neumann said. "Now there are regular wellness temples that offer physiotherapy, massages and a sauna."

Heightened health consciousness also has a dark side for the indoor tanning industry, however. Partly due to the discussion of ultraviolet radiation and skin cancer, the number of tanning studios in Germany has dropped from about 8,500 to fewer than 4,800 since the turn of the millennium. And the number continues to decrease.

Neumann said that the remaining tanning studios were putting more emphasis on quality. So far, some 200 of them have received a test certificate based on criteria set by Germany's Federal Office for Radiation Protection. In addition to equipment, the test assesses the quality of health counselling.

The range of wellness services at sport clubs is considerably smaller than that at commercial facilities, Breskewiz noted. "There you find mainly Nordic walking, calisthenics, and also Tai Chi - the gentler, simpler things, in other words."

Courses in such activities are geared mainly towards people who have little experience with sports, remarked Breskewiz, who said that sports definitely benefited from the concept of wellness.

"But the important question is, 'Does it make me feel good in the long run?'" he added, pointing out that people who constantly struggle with a sport soon give it up.

Some experts warn against over-specialising the idea of wellness. Lutz Hertel, managing director of the German Wellness Association, said commercialisation had gone very far in some areas. "If you want to do Nordic walking, you're supposed to buy the right shoes, poles and gloves," he noted.

Hertel argued, however, that a simple walk in the woods or along the ocean with plenty of fresh air and exercise could be just as effective - "without having the wellness label attached to it." (dpa)