For those of you who live in colder, snow regions of the U.S., it’s been a brutal winter so far. Forget the snow, the temperatures have been too dangerously low to go outside and exercise safely. But here and there, there have been a few days each week where the sun has been out bright and beautiful and the temperatures have gotten up into the mid 20’s which is pretty pleasant weather for outdoor winter sports. So, for my readers who live in the colder regions, I’d like to tell you about the great health benefits of 3 winter sports that, I think, are perfect for seniors – not too strenuous and not too sedentary.
The Health Benefits of The 3 Best Winter Sports for Seniors
It’s winter and there are a few feet of snow on the ground in most of the snow regions of the U.S. The most outdoor exercise many of you may have gotten this winter has been shoveling or snowblowing your driveway. Or, you probably spent most of the winter exercising in your house or at the gym, which can become monotonous.
I’ve always found that you stay more committed to your exercise/fitness goals if you’re also having fun. I think that nothing beats getting outdoors – if the temperature permits – to do some winter sport-exercise and have some fun at the same time. I always feel like the winter passes faster if you get involved with the many activities that are unique to winter and doing certain “snow sports” can really put a lot of fun – and fitness – into your life.
So, in honor of the winter Olympics on right now, here’s 3 great sports I think you’ll have a blast doing by yourself, with a friend, or with a group of friends. Not only will you be having fun and getting rid of the winter blahs, but you’ll also be getting some serious bone, muscle, cardio- respiratory, and even brain strengthening.
1. Cross Country Skiing. An excellent exercise for seniors (and anyone) as it involves whole body exercise, strengthening all your muscles, especially your core. It also helps develops balance and flexibility and burns up to 900 calories per hour, depending on how vigorously you do it. Local state parks usually have designated cross-country trails and you can rent skis there as well. If you’ve used the elliptical at the gym, you’ll jump right into cross country skiing. Do it on a sunny winter day and get ready to put yourself in an incredible mood, cruising along the trail, listening to the hawks in the trees. Take a large bottle of water, and your cell phone. It’s a great way to relax and think many issues through if you’re alone.
2. Ice skating. Now, you can do this at an indoor rink, but it’s a whole lot nicer on an outdoor pond or lake. Just be sure to stay in designated frozen areas that have been tested for thickness and where other skaters go. Ice-skating is a great cardiovascular workout as well as legs, gluteus muscles, and lower back strengthener. It also helps your balance to learn how to stay up on ice skates without falling. It burns about 400-500 calories per hour, depending on how fast you skate and move. Most outdoor rinks rent ice skates by the hour.
3. Snow Shoeing. A lot like cross country skiing, but you use a snow shoe instead of a ski. Snowshoeing is fast becoming a popular sport for fitness enthusiasts for its great cardio-respiratory workout value as well as recreational value. Snowshoeing burns a lot of calories, twice as much as walking at the same speed, upward of 400-1000 an hour. It’s also another great whole body workout. It builds endurance, flexibility, and strength and balance skills, thereby stimulating your brain as well – all things that seniors need to maintain. Most state parks with cross-country trails allow snowshoeing and rent them as well.
Winter sports are both great fun and a great way to burn fat and strengthen bones and muscles. The 3 mentioned above are perfect for senior fitness as they’re not as strenuous as snowboarding may be, (but it all depends on your fitness level) yet still provides a healthy workout. They even stimulate your brain just by having to navigate your body outdoors in 3-D space. And, if you go with a friend, or a group of friends, outdoor sports can also be a great social outlet.
Like all outdoor winter sports though, be sure to exercise outdoor preparedness. Dress warmly protecting your hands and feet from cold, wear a hat and sunglasses, and also use a sunscreen as the UV rays off the sun can be just as burning as summer sun. Bring enough water, a snack in your pockets, and enough water. If you go alone, be sure you let someone at home know where you are, and that you know your surroundings. Stick to designated, clearly marked cross country/snow shoe trails, and safe-thickness ice skating areas. Above all, have fun!
Mark Bromson, M.D.