There are plenty of health benefits to hitting the slopes, but the health risks are easy to overlook.
Whether it’s the stunning views, the feeling of crisp winter air, or the exhilaration of that next run, there is something about winter sports that keeps people hooked for life.
Cold weather pursuits like skiing, snowboarding and ice skating are all great for the body and mind, but they aren’t without their health risks.
Read on for the health benefits of the most popular winter sports and the hazards you need to remember.
The health benefits of winter sports
1. Building your cardio
Winter sports are some of the most exciting ways to improve your cardiovascular health, and best of all, it won’t even feel like hard work. Cross-country skiing is a fantastic aerobic activity that builds endurance and burns calories. You don’t have the helping hand of gravity carrying you down a slope, so it’s up to your upper and lower body muscle groups to keep you moving forward. This keeps your heart rate up and oxygen-rich blood pumping through your body.
Combine this with the advantages of exercising at a higher altitude and you can expect to return from your next outing feeling fitter. The air is thinner at a higher altitude, which means your body needs to work harder during exercise.
Then, when you return to sea level you are stronger, more powerful and, in theory, able to exercise for longer.
2. Strengthening muscles you didn’t know you had
It is commonly said that skiing works muscles you didn’t know existed, simply because the sport is so good at strengthening muscle groups that other activities can’t.
Downhill skiing targets the ‘prime movers’, namely the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip and foot muscles. Cross-country skiing on the other hand works the triceps and biceps, gluteus maximus, gastrocnemius and thigh muscles, as you are more reliant on the upper body.
3. Boosting your balance
Your balance and coordination are also boosted by winter sports as you learn to stay in control and upright. Good balance is important during skiing and snowboarding in particular, so you can expect to strengthen your core and improve your posture as you learn to master both activities.
Improving your core, and therefore your ability to balance, will see you work the abdominals, obliques, lower back and hips.
4. Reducing your mental stress
Getting out in the fresh air and raising your heart rate is important for your mental wellbeing as well as your physical health. That’s because physical activity helps your body to release the feel-good endorphins that can lift your mood and reduce stress.
Consider that the next time you’re thinking about chocolate rather than cardio as a mood booster.
How to stay safe when playing winter sports
1. Be prepared
It’s easy to overlook the health risks posed by winter sports when you’re so focused on the excitement they bring. Make sure your fun isn’t cut short by injury by preparing properly before you head out.
For skiing and snowboarding you should consider wearing a helmet, especially if you plan to go off-piste. Some of the most common ski-related injuries happen below the hips, so you should train your lower body before your trip to help prevent them.
Focus on strengthening your quadriceps and gluteal muscles (back of the thigh) through exercises such as cycling and weight training.
Yoga and pilates can also increase strength, agility and balance which are all vital to staying fit during cold weather sports. Brushing up on your technique is wise too, as a nasty fall could lead to a damaged joint or bone.
If you are a keen ice skater or ice hockey player, you should focus on making sure your skates fit and are laced properly. They need to fully support the ankle but offer enough space to move freely.
Don’t forget your gloves, helmet, mouthguard and shoulder, shin and elbow pads if you want to get involved in a competitive game of ice hockey. The hits can be hard.
2. Know your limits
One sure way of injuring yourself is by not knowing your physical limits. Listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired and take things easy, or risk a sprain or strain that puts you out of action. Don’t forget that many winter activities take you to relatively remote places where help can’t always reach you easily.
Cold temperatures are another danger to consider, particularly if you become stranded and can’t move to stay warm.
While looking forward to your next trip out on the snow or ice, remember to prepare fully for the risks you could face. If you are feeling any pain or aches after a recent trip, it could be time to speak to a physiotherapist so that a small injury doesn’t turn into something worse.
Certain injuries may require surgery to help you return to full health. At BMI healthcare we can provide treatment or surgery for knees, hips, shoulders and other joints.
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