Domhnall MacAuley: Who stole health

Domhnall MacauleyWho stole health. I used to think it was something to do with medicine. As a straight laced, card carrying, GMC registered proper doctor, perhaps I should relax, chill, and discover my inner calm. The  health industry has less and less to do with medicine— everyone wants a piece of the action. The high street boasts every sort of health centre; holistic, ethnic, homeopathic, and other strange titles I don’t quite understand. Health sections in newspapers and magazines carry features promising previously undiscovered secrets so we can all achieve perfection and live forever. Hotels are the new health centres.

Hotels must have a wellness centre, a spa, or body maintenance workshop. You can relax in a darkened room, swim in a seaweed bath, enjoy someone rub body lotion all over, listen to taped bird song, sit with a mud pack on your face, or even pay for someone to put warm stones on your back. Most of these “ activities” require no physical activity—you just lie there like a huge blubbery seal on a rock—fat rippling as magic hands slap on some special potion. You could, of course, do something with proven benefit like exercise in the swimming pool. Remember how, in the past, hotels had square shaped pools—really old fashioned ones with straight edges and corners—where really keen people might swim the occasional length. Now pools have fancy curved surrounds with ornaments in the middle so you can only swim in a squiggle. Infinity pools seem to be the most desirable—you can look into the distance and imagine you are swimming for miles—while clinging on to the edge sipping a cocktail. And, afterwards, you can cook in the sauna, simmer in the warm temperature pool, or soothe those tired muscles in the Jacuzzi.

Maybe I’m too precious. What does health mean anyway. No one really owns it and if the foot ticklers and hot stone merchants make people feel better, then why should I worry. Why should it bother me if the wellness centre and beauty culture centre staff wander around in surgical scrubs or white coats, fancy diplomas displayed on the walls, and dispensing advice based on pseudoscience. For the moment, I am not sure that I would buy in myself. I would rather go for a jog outside; it makes me feel better and the horizontal  driving rain must be good for the complexion. Besides, who knows where those hot stones have been, and I cannot help thinking about all those bugs in the Jacuzzi or kiddies piddling in the infinity pool.

Domhnall MacAuley is primary care editor, BMJ.