Most often when we talk about downhill skiing and health we talk about injuries. However, skiers know downhill skiing is an active sport; this may surprise some, after all most of the energy harnessed in downhill skiing is gravitational. The non-skier may assume skiing takes the same amount of exercise as falling into one’s easy chair.
Well since you are reading this article, I assume you know that is FALSE! Downhill skiing is a physically active sport. While it is true, most of a skier’s speed comes from gravity to harness gravity enjoyably and safely requires physical exertion. Staying up requires athletic balance, avoiding obstacles, skiing bumps, running gates require split second timing, planning a route down the hill requires planning, and if a skier has to move over flat or uphill terrain they must provide the required energy. Skiing requires more exertion than plopping down in front of the TV with a sixpack of one’s favorite beverage.
First, downhill skiing provides aerobic exercise. Ahh, aerobic exercise isn’t that where one dances around with leg warmers? Hehehe, very ’80s. No, aerobic exercise is physical activity that increases the heart and breathing rates above their resting rates, and is sustained over long periods of time. Furthermore, when engaging in aerobic exercise the body is able to supply adequate oxygen to the muscles. Aerobic exercise not only spurs your body to increase its ability to intake and use oxygen (i.e. increase its aerobic fitness) it also burns increased amounts of fats and carbohydrates for energy. (i.e. weight management) . Aerobic exercise is what long distance runners do through most of a long distance race.
Of course, I do not need to tell you aerobic fitness correlates strongly with health. In general, aerobic fitness increases resistance to many disease and illness. Studies show some of the benefits of aerobic fitness are being able to better cope with stress, to sleep better, better moods, and more energy to get us through our long days.
Anaerobic exercise is not so familiar. What is anaerobic exercise? Anaerobic exercise is exercising at an intensity where our body is unable to deliver sufficient oxygen to burn fats. Anaerobic exercise causes the near exclusive burning of carbohydrates. Anaerobic exercise is the all out sprint our long distance runner does near the finish line. In short, anaerobic exertion is intense and short term, though anaerobic exercise need not be so dramatic, it could be a short intense use of muscles to make a sudden change of course or stop while skiing.
Anaerobic exercise uses inefficient energy processes and increases lactic acid in the muscles. Lactic acid in the muscles weakens the muscles and leads to the burn. Even though anaerobic metabolism (Sports Coach has a molecular level discussion of anaerobic metabolism) has a relatively expensive pricetag it is important to be anaerobically fit as well as aerobically fit.
Skiing demands aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Skiing is not a passive activity and we are constantly commanding our skis through our leg muscles and expending energy. Carving wide traverses down the hill falls into aerobic exercise. If you are skiing properly changing direction requires enough effort to spur increased oxygen demands but not enough to get you out of breath (I am not taking into account any effects due to altitude). Making sudden adjustments or skiing down a run of bumps is going to involve anaerobic activities.
Are there any other benefits? Sure! Other signs indicative of good health that can be positively affect by skiing are balance, coordination, agility, quickness, reaction time, flexibility, and muscle strength. The last good thing about skiing is when it is properly done skiing is low impact, that is, the joints do not receive a constant beating as they do when running or jogging.
The last benefit I have received from skiing is increased awareness of my health. I want to ski for as long as possible, and in order to do so I must work at maintaining my health. To maintain my health I work to educate myself about diet, physiology and anatomy, the mechanics of skiing, and health in general. Of course, I try to get into the gym on a regular basis.
We all know skiing contains hazards to our health, but when done within one’s abilities downhill skiing is a veritable boon to health.
Before I Go
I want to thank Dr. Tim Mologne and the Sports Medicine Center of Appleton for allowing me to discuss these matters with them. Our next installment will focus on the body parts used in skiing!
- Dr. Tim Mologne
- The Sports Medicine Center of Appleton
- Georgia State University’s: The Exercise and Physical Fitness Page
- About’s Aerobic Zone Definition page
- BestKnows Aerobic Fitness
- Web MD Aerobic Fitness
- Weightlossforall.com Anaerobic Exercise
Other Good Websites: