Founding Fathers of the Wellness Movement, Don Ardell and John Travis, to Address 2014 Global Spa & Wellness Summit

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Widely credited with shaping the way people think and talk about wellness today, Ardell and Travis will discuss the evolution of modern wellness - from the 1970s into the future.

My own thinking has changed in some significant ways, and for me, R.E.A.L. wellness - which stands for reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty - are what's most vitally needed in our world today

The global wellness sector is now a vast $2 trillion industry,* with the term and movement sweeping around the world. But few people beyond industry experts know that a handful of thinkers from the United States, including Don Ardell, PhD and John Travis, MD,** were responsible for founding the wellness movement as we know it, back in the 1970s.

Today the Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) announced that these seminal founding fathers of wellness will speak at the 2014 conference (Sept. 10-12 in Marrakesh, Morocco), enlightening delegates on the beginnings and evolution of the modern wellness concept. If Dan Rather’s 1979 segment on the U.S. news program "60 Minutes," profiling Dr. Travis’ first-ever wellness center in California, began, “Wellness…there’s a word you don’t hear every day” – it has been Travis and Ardell’s nearly four decades of activism and authorship on the subject that have been largely responsible for making the opposite true today.

“Our 2014 theme is ‘Fast Forward,’ and the conference goal is a strategic ‘deep dive’ into the future of spa and wellness. But to move forward, we also need to look back: we need to understand the roots of the wellness movement, and Don and Jack are these roots,” said Susie Ellis, president and CEO of the GSWS. “Both bring such a wealth of intellect and insight to the table, and have been unique forces in sparking a revolution in the very concept of ‘health’: thinking beyond traditional medicine’s more reactive, illness-centered model, to pioneer new concepts based on self-responsibility, where the goal is a radically more comprehensive ‘total wellness’ of body, mind, emotions and spirit. They sparked the wellness revolution, and will help our industries understand how to keep igniting it.”

More about John Travis:

John W. “Jack” Travis, MD, MPH, completed his medical degree at Tufts University and a residency in preventive medicine at Johns Hopkins, where he received a Masters in Public Health and created one of the first computerized Health Risk Assessments (HRAs). Influenced by Dr. Halbert L. Dunn’s 1961 "High-Level Wellness," the first thinker/book to use the concept of wellness in its modern sense, Jack then made the pivotal move of opening the world’s first wellness center, The Wellness Resource Center, in Mill Valley, CA in 1975. The Center’s mission: to complement the medical/illness focus by addressing an individual’s self-directed, holistic, total wellbeing. Dan Rather’s 1979 "60 Minutes" piece on Travis’ new Center brought the word and concept of wellness to mainstream America.

In 1975 he also developed a whole-person, 12-dimension wellness assessment tool, the "Wellness Inventory," to identify underlying motivational issues of high-risk behaviors. In 1999, Healthworld Online began expanding this tool into a comprehensive online wellbeing assessment, widely used by corporations, hospitals and universities, as well as wellness, fitness and spa professionals worldwide. In 1981 he co-wrote (with Regina Ryan) the classic "Wellness Workbook," which is still used as a foundational resource for wellness development.

One of Travis’s key concepts (developed 1972) is the Illness-Wellness Continuum, a response to the traditional medical paradigm assuming that a person is well if no symptoms of illness are present, and where injuries and symptoms are treated to bring people to a “neutral point” where no illness is visible. Travis’ Illness-Wellness Continuum proposes instead that there are degrees of wellness, and seeks to move individuals further along the continuum towards optimal physical, emotional and mental states. (I.e., true wellbeing is dynamic, not static.)

Since the 70s, Jack has continued to push the leading edge of wellness, incorporating infant, adult, societal and planetary issues. He has now integrated his work within the concept of “full-spectrum wellness,” where the focus is on interconnections (from conception to death - from inside our skin to the whole planet) that are vital given that the web of connections that humans require for optimal health have been severely compromised by modern civilization. With Meryn Callander he has written "Wellness For Helping Professionals" and "A Change of Heart: The Global Wellness Inventory," and has also created one of the Web’s most comprehensive collections of wellness writings and resources. In 1979 he established Wellness Associates, a non-profit educational corporation, and since 2008 has served as an adjunct professor at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) and at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

“Spas are uniquely perfect places to connect with your body, emotions, mind and spirit, away from the debilitating stress and busyness of modern life,” said Travis. “After decades of thinking about wellness, I would summarize my work in six words: ‘the currency of wellness is connection.’ I look forward to explaining this deceptively simple concept at the Summit, and how it can guide delegates’ future business.”

More about Don Ardell:

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from George Washington University (where he led the basketball team to the NCAA tournament), Don received his masters in city planning from the University of North Carolina. Beginning his career in urban planning, he soon moved into the health arena, serving as director of two (Minneapolis/St. Paul and San Francisco/Bay Area) of the 300+ metropolitan planning councils funded by U.S. Congress in 1966. Realizing that these agencies were narrowly focused on medical system issues such as preventing excessive hospital expansion, Don led a movement to redirect the focus toward wellness education. By the time his stewardship as editor of the "American Journal of Health Planning" was completed two years later, one-third of the regional agencies had instituted plans for the promotion of healthier lifestyles.

A confluence of forces led him further down the wellness activist path. For his leadership in Minnesota, he was awarded a Bush Foundation grant funding a sabbatical at Stanford University’s Business School, and, following that, the Union Institute and University, where he received a doctorate in health and public policy (1977). A serendipitous discovery of Jack Travis’ new Wellness Resource Center in the mid-70s (both lived in Mill Valley, CA) led to fruitful collaborations, including articles about Dr. Travis in Prevention Magazine and Travis serving as adviser during Don’s post-graduate studies.

In 1977 Ardell wrote the book "High Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs, and Disease" (whose title is an homage to Dr. Dunn’s book/thinking), which proved to be a watershed event in the wellness movement. He has since written more than a dozen books, including "Die Healthy," "14 Days to Wellness," "Aging Beyond Belief" and "REAL Wellness." "Wellness Orgasms: The Fun Way to Live Well and Die Healthy" (co-author Grant Donovan) was released last month.

Since 1984 he has produced 74 print and nearly 700 electronic editions of the weekly newsletter, the "Ardell Wellness Report." And his website is one of the world’s largest repositories of wellness articles. He served as adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida from 1984-1996, where he guided the campus wellness center. For nearly four decades he has traveled throughout North America, Europe and Asia speaking about applications of the wellness concept. Ardell takes his ideas about wellness-inspired living seriously: he is the current U.S. champion for his age division in both triathlon and duathlon, and six-time world champion.

“I’m excited to discuss the history of wellness with industry leaders in Marrakesh, and help them identify key opportunities for advancing real wellness in the world,” said Ardell. “My own thinking has changed in some significant ways, and for me, R.E.A.L. wellness - which stands for reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty - are what's most vitally needed in our world today, and the dimensions too often ignored in most wellness models. But core ideas I argued for in "High Level Wellness" remain: ‘Modern medicine is a wonderful thing, but there are two problems: people expect too much of it, and too little of themselves.’”

To register to become a delegate to the 2014 GSWS, click here.

To learn about other 2014 speakers, click here.

About the Summit: The Global Spa & Wellness Summit (GSWS) is an international organization representing senior executives and leaders from over 40 countries, joined by a common interest to drive economic development and understanding of the spa and wellness industries. Delegates from diverse sectors, including hospitality, tourism, health and wellness, beauty, finance, medical, real estate, manufacturing and technology, attend the organization’s annual Summit, which is held in a different host country each year. After just seven years, the GSWS is now considered the leading global research and educational resource for the $2 trillion spa and wellness industry. For more information, visit

*SRI International data, 2010

**Another key pioneer was Bill Hettler, MD, who founded the National Wellness Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point in the mid-70s.

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