What are the health benefits of skiing?
Fri October 20, 2017
Earlier this year, a Californian man named George Jedenoff celebrated his 100th birthday in style - with a few runs in his favourite resort, Snowbird in Utah.
Now, we’re not suggesting that George’s longevity and fitness results entirely from his annual skiing trips in Utah - he also works out every day. But medical evidence does suggest that skiing carries with it many substantial health benefits. George is far from alone in the ranks of elderly skiers, and you’re never too old to start, but these benefits begin to accrue the moment you first hit the slopes whatever your age.
Looking to improve your strength, agility or mental well being? Here’s a rundown of the key health benefits of skiing…
Skiing can help you sleep
Insomnia is thought to affect up to one in three people in the UK, to different extents. Persistent sufferers often find that it has a significant impact on their quality of life. Just as there are many causes of sleep problems, there are also many potential solutions, but one of the best is getting some exercise a few hours before hitting the sack.
Because skiing requires you to use your entire body and focus your concentration for prolonged periods of time, and is combined with plenty of good fresh air, it’s among the best forms of exercise there is for promoting deep, refreshing sleep. Even if you only make a couple of short runs after lunch, you can expect to fall asleep a lot easier than you would when following your normal daily routine.
Skiing can help you lose weight
Excess weight can lead to a scarily long list of health issues, from high blood pressure which is one of the leading causes of strokes, to osteoarthritis and type 2 diabetes. A healthy diet combined with regular exercise is considered one of the best ways to stay in shape, and of course skiing - whether it’s lugging your skis and poles around, using multiple muscle groups or jogging from the restaurant to catch the last lift of the day, can make for a superb workout.
Research from Harvard Medical School indicates that a person weighing around 80kg can expect to burn up to 266 calories in a 30-minute burst of downhill skiing, and up to 355 during 30 minutes of cross-country skiing. What’s more, regular skiers tend to be more aware of what they’re eating to ensure that they get the maximum energy from their food, and restrict their drinking so that they’re fresh and clear-headed for the next day on the slopes.
Skiing strengthens your body
Even experienced skiers are familiar with the burning sensation in the legs that arises after a long session on the piste. What many people don’t realise however is that when you ache afterwards, this is a sign of how good skiing is for your body.
Downhill skiing requires your body to be in a crouching position for much of the time, ensuring that your thighs, hamstrings, quads and glutes are getting a thorough workout. Your knees and joints are being continually strengthened which can stave off problems such as osteoarthritis in the future, while your core is engaged throughout. You’ll also find that your flexibility improves considerably - maybe not as much as your average hot yoga enthusiast, but certainly to the point where you won’t have any difficulty wrestling with the kids. In short, skiing is probably one of the best all-over workouts you can get. The fact that it’s such incredible fun is just a happy bonus!
Skiing can help your heart
Health professionals recommend that even a short burst of moderate physical activity every day can have huge benefits for your cardiovascular system. Here comes the science bit: research shows that exercise helps the heart to produce and store nitric oxide - not to be confused with nitrous oxide, or laughing gas - relaxing blood vessels and improving circulation. This can contribute to preventing heart disease and heart attacks in the future.
Developing as a skier requires you to maintain a decent level of physical fitness, ergo you need to get regular exercise whether on the ski slopes or elsewhere. So even if you only ski once or twice a year, it ensures that you are keeping the old ticker in good working order.
Skiing can help with balance
One of the most interesting aspects of skiing, as far as we’re concerned, is that it’s what’s known as a proprioceptive activity. It might sound complicated, but it’s not. Essentially, proprioception is the ability to feel the position of your different body parts, your hands, feet and so forth, and the effort that you put into moving them around.
Skiing requires constant adjustment and corrections to perfect technique and maintain balance, and the more you do it, the more this skill develops. Because proprioception tends to weaken as you get older, if you ski, you should enjoy better balance later in life, hopefully resulting in fewer slips and falls.
Skiing can improve your mood
That goes without saying, right? We all know the joy of arriving in resort and learning that there’s a fresh powder dump on the way, or that a great new restaurant just opened up halfway down our favourite piste. But there is clear scientific evidence that skiing can lift your mood. For one thing, provided you catch some good weather, then you’ll be getting a lot of Vitamin D exposure from the sun, which is known to help ward off SAD, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Then there’s the social aspect of skiing. Many people choose to ski as a group of friends, which as well as contributing to bonding relationships, can be motivational. Constant improvement of technique and conquering new challenges build optimism and satisfaction, while the very nature of skiing releases endorphins giving you a kind of ‘natural high’. The respected Mayo clinic describes exercise as ‘meditation in motion’ and anyone who has experienced the pure unadulterated bliss of sailing through a fresh field of powder in the sunshine can no doubt relate to that.