Cross country skiing has been around for centuries but for many recreational skiers it remains a relatively unknown sport. This is especially the case in the large popular ski resorts in the French Alps such as the Three Valleys where downhill Alpine Skiing is the star of the show. Following on from our recent blog post a Beginners’ Guide to Cross Country Skiing we would like to share with you some of the health benefits of cross country skiing. Our aim is to encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t already!
1) It is a total body workout
Cross country skiing uses every major muscle group simultaneously. It is the ultimate full body workout using both the ‘pushing’ and ‘pulling’ muscles. Your arms work hard pushing down through your poles to propel you along at the same time as your legs are pushing and powering you forwards. Other muscles that you may not feel or even know existed are working hard just to keep you balanced and upright. At the centre of all this action is your core (which is why Pilates is such great training for cross country skiing by the way!) The fact that the upper body plays such a big role is one of the main differences between cross country skiing and other endurance sports such as running and cycling.
2) It burns calories (and lots of them!)
Cross country skiing burns more calories than any other type of sport or exercise – anything between 600 and 1,122 (the stats are quite specific!) calories per hour, depending on whether you are going at a recreational pace or vigorous mountaineering pace. This of course means you can enjoy that delicious tartiflette or après-ski hot chocolate completely guilt free!
3) Low Impact for your joints
Cross country skiing is a low impact sport so there is less stress going through your joints, particularly the hips, knees and ankles, compared to many other sports. The gliding action, absence of quick twisting movements and the fact that your heels are free rather than fixed to the skis means there is only a very low risk of traumatic injury to the knees. This is one of the reasons that the sport is suitable for and popular with all age groups from children to octogenarians.
4) Strengthens cardiovascular system
Simply put, it is an excellent aerobic work out. Many muscle groups are involved but no one group is over stressed, hence the activity can be maintained for a long time. This sustained raised heart rate strengthens the heart and improves it’s ability to pump blood around the body and therefore deliver larger amounts of oxygen to the muscles.
5) Improves endurance
Long periods of aerobic exercise are known to improve our endurance. This means everyday activities such as climbing the stairs will feel easier and also leads to raised overall energy levels. You will feel an improvement in your endurance after only a few sessions of cross country skiing.
6) Improves balance
Probably the biggest surprise for alpine skiers when they first try cross country skiing is how challenging it is to remain in balance on the skis. Being much narrower than downhill skis the smaller surface area makes it significantly harder to balance and stay upright. Practising cross country skiing therefore really helps to improve our balance. The benefits of this are many. Good balance and proprioception (knowing where our body is in space) is known as a valuable way to help prevent injuries. Challenging your balance is an excellent way to strengthen your core muscles. Also as we age our sense of balance deteriorates but we can take steps to avoid this – the “use it or lose it” theory. Inactivity leads to a decline in strength and balance but by taking part in forms of exercise that challenge our balance we can help maintain our bodies’ complex balancing systems.
7) Boosts mental health
When we exercise our bodies release endorphins – a type of neurotransmitter (brain chemical) which helps relieve pain and stress. Endorphins can be thought of as a type of feel good chemical which gives us a natural high making us feel happy and positive. This sense of well-being can continue long after you finish skiing, helping you be more focussed, more productive and even get a better night’s sleep. Cross country skiing is also a sociable sport often carried out by groups of friends or families. This social engagement and interaction has many positive effects on our mental health.
8) Green exercise
So called ‘green exercise’ refers to exercise that is undertaken in a natural environment. This links in with the last point of boosting our mental health. Many studies have now shown that green exercise can demonstrate significant benefits to self-esteem and mood. Exercising with a stunning mountain backdrop or in the midst of a pine forest offers peace and tranquillity and acts as a natural form of stress relief. We are lucky that some of our local cross country skiing sites such as Lac Tueda in Meribel or Champagny-le-haut near Bozel are both within or right on the edge of national parks, well known for their stunning natural beauty. We can vouch for the fact that you only need to set foot there to experience a lift in your mood. Add in those endorphins and you cannot beat it!
So what are you waiting for? You now know some of the health benefits of cross country skiing. We are sure there are many more too. If you haven’t already done so, read our Beginners Guide To Cross Country Skiing and get those skis on! Bon ski!