Retreat experiences appear to have positive health benefits, including benefits for people with chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis, cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart conditions and mental health issues.
This is according to research conducted by Professor Marc Cohen of RMIT University in Australia and a team of researchers who examined 23 studies relating to the health impacts of immersive residential retreat experiences. The findings were published in January 2018 in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
“The findings from the reviewed studies suggest there are many positive health benefits from retreat experiences, which include improvements in both subjective and objective measures,” says Cohen. “It’s likely that improvements in health are due to a combination of psychological and behavioural factors that lead to better coping mechanisms, lifestyle choices, and enhanced resilience to stress.”
The studies involved 2,592 participants from a wide range of geographical and demographic populations – everything from luxury resort guests to unemployed adults and even prison inmates.
Seven studies examined objective outcomes such as blood pressure or biological markers of disease, while 16 had subjective outcomes, mostly involving self-reported questionnaires on psychological and spiritual measures. All of the studies reported post-retreat health benefits ranging from immediately after the retreat to five years after.
“The results suggest that retreat experiences significantly improve people’s lives. This is evident from reported improvements in quality of life and subjective wellbeing, decreases in the frequency and severity of health symptoms, reductions in body weight, blood pressure and abdominal girth, and positive changes in metabolic and neurological pathways,” says Cohen.
Four studies looked at retreats aimed at improving quality of life for cancer patients, and all showed benefits, including improvements in quality of life, depression and anxiety scores, and increased telomere length, with benefits being recorded up to five years post-retreat.
“The finding that retreat experiences can lead to sustained and significant health improvements long after participants return home suggests they help guests make positive lifestyle changes and adopt healthy behaviours,” says Cohen.
He also says that more research is needed, with larger numbers of subjects and longer follow-up periods.