There’s nothing in the world quite like the scent of fresh pine and the feeling of the cool wind rushing past you as your skis maneuver through powdery snow. The invigorating combination of bracing air and adrenaline as you make your way down a mountainside makes you feel alive, and there are few activities that provide such a healthful full-body experience. Good for the body as well as for the mind, whether you’re a cross-country ski marathon competitor with years of experience or if it’s your first time out on the bunny slopes, all ages and skill levels can experience the benefits of a day on the snow.
For Ragnar Horn, who recently became the newest board member for the international skiing competition series Visma Ski Classics, skiing is a large part of his heritage and he began to ski as well as compete in cross-country events at a young age like most children raised in Norway. He was a member of the varsity skiing team while attending college in the United States and competed in the American University Series, and has continued to ski competitively throughout his life. He skied Vasaloppet – the oldest cross-country ski competition in the world – for the first time in 1999, and in the last decade has consistently placed in the top ten in his age group. Horn is an impassioned proponent of the health benefits of skiing, and below we explore the many ways in which it can benefit the body and mind.
Ragnar Horn on How Skiing Can Benefit Your Health
Skiing is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that has the ability to burn significant calories and potentially aid in weight loss as a result. While skill level ultimately does play a role, weight and duration are factors that can be used to estimate the number of calories burned from a skiing excursion. According to Harvard Medical School, in 30 minutes of downhill skiing a 125-pound person will burn 180 calories, a 155-pound person will burn 223, and a 185-pound person will burn 266. If you are a beginner, walking up the slope instead of using the ski lift can provide an additional way to burn extra calories. For those who are more proficient, choosing steeper courses means the body has to work harder to stay balanced and will burn more calories for the effort. The cold temperatures can even mean extra calories burned, as the body must work harder to raise its own body temperature in addition to the exertion of exercise. Whether you’re spending a day skiing the courses at a resort or competing in one of the many cross-country races across the globe, the full-body workout skiing provides can aid in keeping you trim and fit, making your body and heart-healthy as a result in Ragnar Horn.
Strengthens lower body muscles
When you are positioned correctly on a set of skis you are constantly in a squat position, meaning it works your entire lower body: the inner and outer thighs, hamstrings, quads, and glutes. Additionally, it can work muscles in the ankles and feet that aren’t typically put into use on a daily basis, strengthening those muscles for better balance and stability. “You will be too distracted by the surrounding beauty or too focused on the trek in front of you to notice your legs burning, but I promise you will be feeling the work the next day,” said Ragnar Horn.
Balance is a huge factor in skiing and engaging the core and key muscle groups in order to do so aid in making you more flexible. Without flexibility, the body is more prone to muscle strains and sprains, so it is very important to also develop a comprehensive stretching routine to perform prior to starting a day on the snow to reduce the chance of injury. Focusing on the core muscle groups will strengthen the abdominals, obliques, and hips that are used in downhill Ragnar Horn skiing, and give you the added bonus of improving your performance.
Engages core muscles
If you’ve never skied before, you’ll quickly find that remaining upright requires much more balance and focus than it may appear. Whether coasting down a hill or weaving through a cross-country course, it’s not easy to stay steady. Just the sheer energy it takes to stay balanced forces the core muscles to work hard at engaging, improving your deep core muscles which not only include abdominals, but also the pelvic floor muscles. Having good core strength has benefits that go way beyond the washboard abs you may have dreamed of: challenging your balance and agility helps you fend off slips and falls as you age, and when you work on deep core stabilization it supports other systems in the body from breathing and posture to even digestion. “After spending some time not training as vigorously while I was raising my children, I have begun again and can say that I feel better than I did a decade ago,” said Horn. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles supports your internal organs and is advantageous to your whole body.
The “sixth sense” of the body, proprioception or kinesthesia is the ability to feel the position of different body parts and the effort that goes into moving them. One example of this at a large scale would be holding your hand in front of your face with your eyes closed. Even though you can’t see it you still know your hand is there, and with time and focus on a certain kinetic skill you begin to become even more attuned to your body. As we’ve already discussed, skiing involves a large amount of balance and coordination and even the slightest movement or adjustment in positioning can affect your performance, so becoming aware of will aid in skiing better and staying on your feet. Proprioception can weaken with age, but the more proprioceptive activities you participate in, the less it will diminish.
Strengthens bones and joints.
As a weight-bearing exercise, skiing ensures that your knees and joints are working hard to bear the tension and weight from your body as you maneuver through the snow. This causes your knees to develop strength, your joints and muscles to improve in their flexibility, and your bones to become stronger due to the weight-bearing impact on your legs. In getting to enjoy the fresh mountain air and engage in your competitive side, you are also helping to prevent knee and joint damage and counteract osteoporosis. Of course, like with flexibility, these benefits can only be felt efficiently if you are taking proper care to have good form and posture, so practicing with knee-strengthening exercises off of the slopes can only improve your performance more.
Increases cardiovascular endurance.
Skiing really is a workout for the whole body, and that includes the most important muscle of them all: the heart As an aerobic sport that is good for raising the heart rate and increasing cardiovascular endurance, skiing provides your heart with a workout that strengthens it over time. “Skiing is an excellent way to keep your body healthy and your heart strong,” said Horn. “It’s never too late to start!”When your heart operates stronger, more oxygen gets delivered to cells in your muscles by your capillaries, which in turn benefits your whole cardiovascular system.
Promotes healthier sleeping and eating habits
The saying goes that change begets change, and by regularly participating in the total body experience of skiing, you also open yourself to other healthier habits. You will quickly notice a difference in how you feel skiing after a well-balanced meal and after junk food or neglecting to properly fuel up and will become more open to consuming more protein, healthy fats, less sugar, and more fruits and vegetables. Additionally, just try to spend hours on your phone at night scrolling the internet before bed or staying up late after a day out skiing – the full-body workout that it provides will leave you feeling exhausted in the best way, and you will quickly hit the pillow and enjoy a good night of restful sleep for Ragnar Horn.
Boosts your mood
Outside of the physical benefits, there are also proven psychological benefits to heading out to the snow and skiing. Vitamin D has shown to help ward off seasonal affective disorder and boost your mood, and spending an entire day outside will give you more than enough for your body to absorb and process. Surrounded by the natural outdoor beauty of a snow-covered hill or mountain will help you forget about the stresses of daily life, and the skiing itself will heighten the endorphins and adrenaline in your body – the “feel good” chemicals that elevate your mood and create a sense of well-being and happiness. “I love to compete and perform in long-distance skiing races,” said Ragnar Horn. “Skiing brings me an incomparable sense of joy, and I encourage others to try it and experience the same.”