Winter is here! If you are looking for a way to stay active this season and enjoy the mountain scenery, Nordic, or cross-country (XC) skiing is a fun and affordable activity that has great health benefits. What do all those Scandinavians know that we don’t?
Coordinating your movements requires use of both your lower and upper body while simultaneously working your “push” and “pull” muscles. You will discover muscles you didn’t know you had! Tiny stabilizer muscles are actively involved in both balance and agility. It is a wonderful cross-training alternative for other sports.
If you are trying to avoid that extra winter insulation, XC skiing is known to have one of the largest caloric demands of any sport. A study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that one hour of cross-country skiing burns as many calories as 2.5 hours of alpine skiing – and has more heart-health benefits. Nordic skiers are known to be some of the fittest athletes on the planet! As you start to navigate more rolling and hilly terrain, climbing uphill is like a miniature sprint. Short bursts of intense activity can produce a much more effective and time-efficient workout.
XC skiing is an excellent aerobic workout for your heart and lungs. Given the dynamic movement and full-body integration, no single muscle group is overstressed allowing people to build stamina and endurance. By maintaining an elevated heart rate over a sustained period, this strengthens and improves your heart’s capacity to pump blood efficiently and effectively. In a recent study out of Sweden looking at octogenarian men, lifelong XC skiers showed approximately twice the cardiovascular and muscular fitness of the untrained group and were deemed to be 40% fitter than other endurance athletes in their age group.
The smooth, gliding motion makes it a relatively low-impact activity that puts minimal pressure on your joints. Given it is a weight-bearing activity, this also has benefits for your overall bone health as it slows mineral loss.
Playing outdoors together is a great way to connect with friends and family. Having company while you exercise helps to pass the time and create social bonds. It’s a perfect pandemic pastime.
It’s hard to get enough Vitamin D in the winter but getting outside to in the sunshine and natural light helps. Get your nature fix and embrace the great outdoors. Soaking in the vistas, swishing through a peaceful forest and enjoying the tranquility of gently falling snowflakes can offer great therapeutic benefits in reducing cortisol. Time in nature and exercise is a double-dose of stress-busting hormones that can provide a renewed sense of calm and a natural energy boost. It can reduce muscle tension, lower blood pressure, increase positive brain activity and improve your mood. Chances are, you sleep better after a day of breathing in the fresh air.
Are you convinced yet? Please read Part Two: Get Your Swish On: Cross-Country Skiing for Newbies with tips on getting your gear and where to go.
– Kiley Torti is an Active Living Consultant with the Bow Valley Primary Network