Downhill skiing—it’s got incredible scenery, beautiful sweaters, cozy lodges, warm drinks, thrilling ski lifts, great socializing and startling amounts of fun. And what a workout!
Gravity may give you an assist, but going downhill requires you to constantly shift your balance, adjust your arms and legs, navigate the slope and pump blood and oxygen throughout your body. It’s a form of interval training, alternating bouts of intense exertion with the rest you get while riding back to the top.
The advantages you gain on the slopes can last for years or even a lifetime:
Balance — Just staying upright is the first battle for novices, but it’s a constant battle when you’re downhilling. Swaying from side to side and shifting slightly every second challenges your joints and muscles, especially core muscles, to react and recover almost before you realize it. This improves your balance, and the effect can last into old age, helping to prevent falls.
Cardio — The effort and adrenaline involved with downhill skiing inevitably raises your heart rate, and this leads to positive impacts including lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, higher insulin resistance and improved circulation through clearer arteries.
Bones — All that standing, sliding and shifting puts a load on your leg, ankle and foot bones, fortifying and strengthening them with weight-bearing exercise so they won’t become as fragile as you age as they might otherwise.
Legs and core — Skiing really excels at working your lower body muscles from continually varying angles as you switch between predictable and unpredictable movements. The benefits extend from your quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteals all the way to your core and upper body in a way few other activities can.
Calorie burn — The challenges skiers face during any downhill run improve balance and build muscle, so it’s not surprising it also burns calories. A Harvard Medical School chart of the number of calories burned during various athletic and daily activities shows a 125-pound person can burn up to 180 calories per 30 minutes of skiing, increasing to 223 for a 155-pound individual and 266 for an 185-pounder.