Few of us need a reason to go on holiday but, going on a skiing holiday presents more good reasons than most.
For skiing provides more than a change of scenery and time out from the office, it comes with numerous health benefits too.
Twisting and turning down the slopes uses most of the major muscle groups so it provides an all over workout to build strength. Plus it gets the heart working faster meaning it helps improve general fitness and stamina too.
“Spending five hours on the slopes provides the equivalent work out you get from having two tennis lessons or playing two full rounds of golf,” says Mr Jonathan Bell, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon who is also the resident expert for the Ski Club of Great Britain. "You can get noticeably fitter in a week’s skiing holiday."
Yet it’s not just good for your physical wellbeing. Skiing, it seems, brings psychological benefits too.
Last year researchers in South Korea published a study which found that a visit to the slopes increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction and reduced stress.
The researchers, from the Yonsei University, believe the benefit of skiing comes from its ‘flow’ i.e. the fact that people can lose themselves in the activity and forget about everything else in their lives while they are on the slopes.
So what else does it do for you?
• A workout for the heart. Skiing is hard work but, that’s the beauty of it. It gets that heart pumping faster and the heart, like other muscles in the body, needs to be challenged to get stronger. The increased heart rate will also get blood and oxygen flowing round the body keeping the vessels and tissues healthy. It will also improve lung capacity too. Even walking back up the slope provides a good work out.
• Tone your muscles. Skiing involves a lot of muscles and not just those in the legs. It is one of the few sports to provide an all over work out. ‘Skiing engages muscles in the upper body, tummy back, leg and the glutes in the bottom,'says Mr Bell. ‘Skiing also tones the core muscles deep in the abdomen which helps support for the back too. The beauty of skiing is that it works many muscles like the core muscles that are hard to engage with other sports.' It will also help counter age related muscle loss.'Even people with early arthritis can ski – and actually it is very good for them as it improves the strength of the muscles so will give better support to their arthritic joints,' says Mr Bell. Having to move this way and that down the slopes will also improve balance and flexibility.
• Boosts weight loss. Skiing is intense and uses up more calories per hour than any other sport. Consequently the good news is that you don’t need to feel guilty about that après ski hot chocolate. An average sized adult could burn 400- 600 calories an hour while they go downhill skiing, by contrast an hour’s brisk walking would burn.
• Good for the mind. The researchers from Yonsei University found that even a one off visit to the slopes increased happiness and ‘contributes to overall well-being.’ So why should this be? While you could arguably get just as fit from peddling away on the bike at the gym or swimming in an indoor pool the key benefit of skiing is that you do it outside – and scientists have found that exercising in the great outdoor is better for you. After evaluating 11 trials scientists from the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Exeter , concluded that exercising in the natural environment brought increased energy, greater feelings of revitalisation and decreased tensions, anger and depression. Exercising outdoors also brought greater enjoyment than doing it indoors so makes people more likely to repeat the activity, according to the study published in Environmental Science and Technology.
Prepare yourself to prevent injury
Although skiing is a brilliant way to tone your muscles and strengthen your heart, turning up on the slope without any preparation is not advisable.
‘Some people think of skiing just as a holiday and not as a sport and don’t prepare and then arrive on the slopes not as fit as they should be,'says Mr Bell.
‘However as a sport it can be extremely hard work and really you need to prepare for it.
‘If your muscles are stronger and you are generally fit before you go you will ski better and enjoy it more and reduce your risk of injury.
‘Delayed onset muscles soreness happens and it peaks 48 hours after you start and that is why the highest day for injuries on skiing holidays is on day three.’
How to prepare:
You need to build up muscle strength and stamina. Ideally start 12 weeks before you go, working up gradually doing exercises such as wall sits – where you stand against the wall and then go down into sitting position so that your knee is bent just above the horizontal. To strengthen your cardiovascular system and therefore your stamina you could try running or even using a static bike – starting up from say 10 minutes of running or 5 minutes of intense cycling on the static bike.
Another good way to get in shape is swimming as this can helps improve cardiovascular strength and like skiing it involves co-ordinated movement of the legs and arms.
1. Don't overdo it: Accidents are more common in the afternoon when people are tired than they are in the morning.
2. Eat a carbohydrate rich breakfast: You need lots of energy and will burn lots of calories while skiing so make sure you don't skip breakfast. Try porridge and fruit, or wholemeal toast and eggs for slow release carbohydrates and take an emergency cereal bar with you in case your blood sugar dips and you're too far from a cafe.
3. Wear a helmet: These can prevent head injuries if you have a bad fall or collision.