The Health Benefits of Cross Country Skiing
July 6, 2008
The low-impact, total body workout of Nordic Skiing has numerous health benefits
It's the ultimate cardio exercise, the number one calorie burner, provides a sensational endorphin high, and much more!
The Total Body Workout:
Few sports and activites can claim to be a total body workout, but nordic skiing is just that. Nordic skiing combines both a lower body and upper body workout, while simultaneously working both the "pulling" and "pushing" muscles of each region. Every major muscle group is involved in propelling the xc skier forward, and even muscles that don't seem to be in use are actively involved to balance and coordinate the entire body. Nordic skiing has proved to be so advantagious over other forms of aerobic excercise, that an entire brand of exercise equipment was designed using the same motion. And yet nothing can provide as wholistic and balanced a workout as getting outside, into the snow, and onto a pair of cross country skis.
Ultimate Calorie Burner:
Utilizing every major muscle group simultaneously requires a great deal of energy. And in the human body, energy comes from burning calories. Nordic skiing burns more calories than any other form of exercise or sport --up to 1,122 Calories per hour for vigorous backcountry mountaineering! The chart below will help you to see how XC Skiing stacks up against the competition.(1)
|Cross-Country Skiing (vigorous mountaineering)||1,122|
|Cross-Country Skiing (competitive racing)||952|
|Elliptical Training Equipment (vigorous)||816|
|Swimming (competitive crawl)||748|
|Bicycling (14-15.9 mph, vigorous)||680|
|Cross-country Skiing (brisk recreational)||612|
|Stair-Stepper Equipment (vigorous)||612|
|Football (competitive game)||612|
|Tennis Match (singles)||544|
|Golfing (walking, pulling clubs)||292|
A Healthy Heart and Lungs:
Nordic skiing is an excellent aerobic workout, and because no single muscle group is overstressed, the activity can be sustained for hours on end. As a result, a fast heart rate is also sustained for a long duration. This sustained rapid heart-rate is exactly what your heart needs in order to be strengthened and to improve your heart's capacity to pump blood efficiently and effectively. As your heart beats faster, supplying oxygen-rich blood to your muscles and organs, your lungs must also keep up with the challenge. This increased respiration exercises your lungs by improving their capacity for "peak-flow" and exchange of oxygen between the inhaled air and the blood perfusing the lungs. This increased peak air flow, together with strengthened diaphragm muscles, will enable you to exercise without "losing your breath," further increasing your stamina and endurance. Other benefits to your heart include significantly reducing your total cholesterol --reducing triglycerides and LDL's, and promoting healthy levels of HDL's. Regular, intense aerobic exercise also stimulates nitric oxide production by blood vessels in the heart as well as new blood vessel growth, both of which protect against heart attacks. Additionally, the sunlight absorbed through the skin while XC skiing is often the only natural source of Vitamin D during the winter months. Sufficient Vitamin D is necessary for the prevention of coronary disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD), and hypertension (high blood pressure), as well as maintaining strong bones.
A Low Impact Workout for Exceptional Joint Health:
Most sports and exercises carry the risk of damaging joints and ligaments from overuse, over-extension, and inevitable accidents. If this were not so, then the specialty of "Sports Medicine" would not need to exist. Unfortunately, most activities that strengthen one part of the body also tear down another. Fortunately, Nordic skiing --diagonal or classic skiing in particular-- is one of the safest and lowest-impact sports in the world. Unlike running sports, there is very little shock to the feet, knees and hips thanks to the gliding motion of classic/diagonal skiing. And unlike Alpine (downhill) skiing, all Nordic sports, (including telemark) have free heels and hinge at the toe, so accidents are far less likely to cause significant injuries to the cruciate ligaments (i.e. ACL) and meniscus (cartilage) of the knees. Cross country skiing is a relatively unidirectional sport, with very little rapid twisting and torquing, and therefore is far less likely than sports such as basketball, football, and volleyball to cause a pulled muscle, torn ligaments and cartilage, or hemorraged disks. And because XC skiing uses all muscle groups in a coordinated and balanced effort, good posture is the default stance of all XC skiers, further reducing chronic muscular and soft tissue injuries.
Endorphin Rush, the Natural High:
Known as a "runners high" or "endorphin rush," the second wind that a Nordic skier feels during a good workout on the trail is second to none. The endorphins produced by the pituitary gland and hypothalamus during extended physical activity or pain is a chemical similar to morphine. This morphine-like endorphin provides an analgesic affect that blocks the human body's ability to feel pain and fatigue. The chemical also gives the XC skier an intense feeling of exhilaration, or, in the least, a clear sense of well-being. This wonderful feeling is what makes it so easy to continue traveling, on or off-piste, hour after hour. Norepinephrine and dopamine, other chemicals produced in the brain during stress, is also released during an intense trail workout. These chemicals add further to the sense of well-being, while also increasing focus and attention to the task at hand.(2) These sensations are not quickly forgotten, even as the ski day comes to an end and the endorphins are long gone. The physical and mental workout has prepared the body for a fantastic night of sleep, and the stresses of the daily grind are quickly subplanted with dreams of another snowy day on the trail.
We can all appreciate the health benefits and the exhilaration of cross country skiing. Whether you prefer a groomed trail, or prefer to go off-piste to some undiscovered corner of the woods, cross country skiing combines the best of outdoor winter recreation, fitness, and good health. So get out there, conquer the cold of winter, bathe in the beauty of nature, and relax in the solitude of the trail. You have every reason to go Nordic! ...and enjoy every snowy day Indiana has to offer.