They come for a variety of reasons. Many hope to get in better physical shape; others want to learn how to eat more nutritiously. Then there are those who wish to de-stress and recharge their batteries. They are women and men, mothers and fathers, who over the years have put their health on hold to achieve professional or academic success, provide and tend to the needs of their families and care for aging parents. The one common thread among all, however, is the desire to focus solely on themselves, far from the distractions and demands of their everyday lives. And they choose to embark on this personal journey at a place called Hilton Head Health.
Located on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, Hilton Head Health, or H3 as it’s more commonly called, is a destination health resort that has been helping people make their wellness aspirations a reality for more than forty years. Led by a slew of caring professionals including health educators, registered dieticians, exercise physiologists, psychologists, chefs and more, the center offers several different programs: the Healthy Getaway and LivingWell options, mini-vacations to revitalize and reset, the week-long JumpStart, and the more comprehensive, four-week-plus LoseWell program.
I chose to participate in the LivingWell program during my five-day stay at H3. It was a great way to sample all that the resort offers in regards to fitness training, food and nutritional guidance, wellness education and spa services, as well as to get some beach time! The resort’s location, minutes from the ocean, only enhances its desirability. You can walk or cycle (bikes are available for rental via H3) for miles on flat stretches of the white sandy expanse. Or simply sit and enjoy the view, along with a pleasant breeze that’s especially appreciated in the warm, humid summer months of the Low Country.
H3’s facility is well-appointed with all the amenities, but it’s not shi-shi or over-the-top extravagant. The vibe is casual, laid back and friendly. And with a high staff-to-guest ratio, everyone can get individual attention and support.
People come from all over the country and even from around the world, as H3 has one of the top reputations among destination health resorts. They keep coming back, too, as shown by the high rate of returnees. Some guests book annually for a “tune-up” or to get back on track, whereas others view it as their yearly, “me time” vacation. They like H3 because it’s not a boot camp, where pushy and demanding trainers bark commands military-style. And they feel safe and accepted in the nonjudgmental atmosphere that exists.
Many guests develop close bonds with the staff, as well as with one another, and form lasting friendships. They create a sense of community during their stay at H3 and then often continue to support each other in their goals long after the program ends. Some even create Facebook pages to communicate and arrange return visits together.
When it comes to activities, H3 exceeds expectations. I was amazed by the slate of classes available. There are up to fifty different exercise sessions, geared towards varying levels of impact. In the weekly program schedule, a brief description of the class, along with the level of impact, is provided so each individual can choose accordingly, whether he/she needs to start with the basics or requires a more challenging workout. An initial functional movement screening is performed on each participant at the start of his/her program to determine a baseline level.
In a Treading class, for example, you’ll get your heart rate up using different speeds and elevations on the treadmill or another cardio machine, such as the elliptical or bike. Another heart pumping workout is Tabata Cardio, where you systematically alternate twenty seconds of exertion and ten seconds of rest. If you prefer to get your cardio through dance, you’re in luck, as you can shake your booty to country music, tribal drums, big band or Latin tunes.
In Butts and Guts, you’ll do floor and core exercises aimed at, you guessed it, those notoriously challenging body parts, and in Resistance Band Training you’ll condition muscles with those love-to-hate dynabands. There’s also suspension training with the TRX system to improve strength, balance and core stability, as well as a variety of other circuit, body sculpting and weight training classes.
If you’re an aficionado of Pilates or yoga, there are plenty of opportunities to strengthen and lengthen, whether indoors, at the beach or in the pool. I am not a yogi, never have been. Based on my experience, I tend to find the yoga scene intimidating and competitive. I always feel “less than” when attempting a pose that all the Gumby dolls around me seem to strike with ease. I was planning to skip yoga altogether, but then something called “Standing Yoga” caught my eye. The description indicated that a complete yoga practice could be developed without straining wrists, shoulders or knees. I was curious, as another one of the other things I dislike about yoga is the uncomfortable pressure it puts on my wrists. The class pleasantly surprised me, in that it was just as challenging as typical yoga classes, yet much kinder on the joints. And I didn’t feel self-conscious or out of place, primarily due to the low-key, inclusive tone set by the teacher.
I was also surprised by the aqua classes. I never thought this type of lower impact exercise would be enough of a workout for me. In the spirit of being open to trying new fitness activities while at H3, I took Aqua Resistance Training. The class used water bells (weights) and alternated aerobic movements with stationary resistance repetitions. My muscles definitely felt the burn, and the experience convinced me to try additional classes in the pool. It showed me you can do most anything in water that you can do on land and still get a good workout.
At H3, it’s not all about moving as fast and as hard as you can, though you might feel tempted to go at it 24/7. Pace yourself or you will get exhausted and risk injury. Take time to participate in some of the resort’s other classes that emphasize equally important aspects of wellness, including stretching, mobility, meditation, mindfulness and intentional breathing. Too many of us, for example, don’t pay enough attention to our breathing, failing to understand its benefits in decreasing anxiety and lowering blood pressure. Or we don’t realize how stretching on a daily basis can help relax muscles and increase blood flow throughout the body.
To complement your comprehensive health and wellness experience, head to the resort’s Indigo Spa. Treatments are designed to help you unwind, and remove those stubborn knots and kinks. Experience heavenly bliss with a Warm Stone Massage, or get targeted relief with a Sore Muscle Deep Tissue Massage. You’ll leave feeling nurtured on all levels, with the reminder that massage is not an indulgence, but rather, a necessity when it comes to giving your mind, body and spirit some well-deserved attention.
H3’s educational component is another significant part of its programs. Daily lectures are held, focusing on such topics as motivation, meal planning and portion control, fitness strategies, goal setting, body image and easing the transition from H3 to home. The latter is essential because for most guests, the greatest challenge is continuing their wellness journey when they return to their daily lives. H3 provides plenty of resources to assist in this arena and also offers a structured follow-up coaching program.
When it comes to food, H3 shines. You’ll quickly get rid of the assumption that healthy equals flavorless when you have your first meal. The resort’s “True” dining concept features a calorie-controlled menu (no buffet!) sourced from fresh local ingredients and inspired by healthy, tasty American and multi-ethnic cuisine. Each dish is aesthetically presented, but more important, the food is delicious, and you won’t go hungry.
For breakfast, there are delectable choices like a seasonal fruit crepe filled with whipped coconut cream, cinnamon oatmeal with peach compote or the morning veggie scramble. At lunch, the menu might include such entrees as a grilled turkey burger, burrito bowl and falafel lettuce wrap, as well as daily featured soups, salads, flatbreads and other special entrees. For dinner one night, I had the summer salad of watermelon, arugula and feta, followed by sea bass with strawberry and mint salsa. Another evening, I created my own custom H3 Plate, selecting seared salmon, roasted mushrooms, grilled broccolini and steamed barley. Two nights a week there’s even dessert!
Choice is paramount in the dining room and you can always order extras with your meals if you want to add other proteins, veggies, starches, etc. Each dish has the calorie count listed next to it and at the bottom of the menu, the recommended calorie intake for the specific meal is noted. The kitchen accommodates food allergies and any dietary restrictions, and there’s also a special plant based menu available. You will be served in style in a contemporary, sunlit dining room by friendly wait staff who will know you by name after the first meal.
In between meals, there’s a selection of FitBites available for consumption, including fresh and dehydrated fruit, veggies and hummus, raw nuts, Greek Yogurt, popcorn, etc. Guests are encouraged to eat a FitBite mid-morning and then again in the afternoon.
As food plays a significant role in most every guest’s wellness aims, H3 endeavors to provide as much support in this area as possible, from cooking demonstrations and cooking lessons, to consultations with a registered dietician and “Smart Cart” grocery store visits with a nutritionist.
I attended a cooking demo one day on how to make flatbread. I’m a passable cook, but I’m not enamored with cooking. I keep it simple most of the time and stay away from complicated recipes with tons of ingredients. Though making flatbread from scratch sounded initially daunting, Chef Matt broke the process down in an easy and accessible manner. The results were yummy, and I left the class willing to give it a go on my own.
During your time at H3, you’ll stay in either a spacious cottage or condo located within the vicinity of the property. Some of the accommodations are close in, while others are a bit of a hike. You’ll be able to walk or ride a bike back and forth to the facility, or if need be, the resort’s van can assist in transportation. You can be assured that you’ll get your own private room and bath, though you will most likely share the common spaces of your unit with another guest or two (full private units available upon request and availability). The resort has plans to build a thirty-room lodge adjacent to the property and hopes to break ground on the project next year.
H3 also offers a number of offsite classes and activities, for an additional fee. You can try stand-up paddleboarding, go kayaking, take an island historic tour or enjoy an evening wildlife and sunset cruise. It’s nice to get a change of scenery and explore a bit of Hilton Head.
The cruises are offered through Island Time Charters and are a must in my opinion. Captain Megan knows the landscape, its history and residents, both two-legged and four. She is passionate about the island and its waterways and enjoys sharing her knowledge with visitors. You’ll learn all about oyster beds, the Spartina Grass marshland and the famed Pluff Mud of the Low Country. This gooey mud contains lots of organic matter, which gives it a distinctive aroma. It has a quicksand effect if you step into it, and when you try to pull out your foot, the sound will be similar to “pluff.”
The sunset cruise allows access to the best locations in the area to enjoy breathtaking views at the most spectacular time of day. Streaks of orange and purple light up the sky and reflect on the waters that surround this special island. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spot Atlantic Bottleneck Dolphins playing peek-a-boo as they swim alongside the boat. What a way to end your day!
For more information: hhhealth.com