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Health benefits of ice skating

Getting out on the ice this winter has benefits that go beyond burning calories

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Confession: I’m a Canadian male and I have never played hockey. I don’t watch it much either, usually only when my wife makes me. Something about playoffs. I’d rather cook. Ours is a strange relationship.

I do like skating though, regardless of only being mediocre at it. I’m going to get cheesy for a second here and refer to it as one of those “Fun activities the whole family can enjoy!” Gak.

Why skating is cool

Number one: It gets you outside during winter. In case you haven’t noticed, Canada has a lot of winter, and holing up inside for most of the season is not good for you. “Oh, it’s cold and dark out! Let’s make popcorn and watch some 2.5 star movie on Netflix!” Lame.

Will you remember another night (or afternoon) on the couch? No. Will you remember everyone getting cold-weather-geared-up-the-wazoo and spending a couple of hours skating along a river, around a pond, or even at the outdoor rink of your local community centre? Yes. Forever.

What skating will do for you

OK, going skating on a regular basis is not going to turn you into a fitness model. Besides, burning calories is just about the least important thing exercise does.

It will have a positive training effect, however. The more frequently you do it and the harder you push, the more your butt, thigh, and calf muscles are going to be worked, which is good. It will also improve your aerobic conditioning and have myriad other positive health effects in terms of reduced stress, reduced cardiovascular risk factors, improved mood and a whole host of other health benefits right down to the cellular level. I’ve said it before and will do so again—exercise is the only fountain of youth there is. Longevity doesn’t come in pill form. Neither does enhanced physical performance.

It will also be fun. It can serve to change your attitude about the way you approach life. Going outside to skate either with a friend or family member, or even by yourself, is a completely different mindset from staying inside and away from the cold. This can be one of those “tipping point” things where it prompts you to action in other areas of life. Actually having fun doing something physical can get you interested in adopting other forms of exercise, and can even lead to dietary improvements.

What you need:

  • Skates
  • Maybe a helmet
  • If you’re really new to skating or really klutzy, wrist guards can be a good idea too

Let’s talk about that helmet thing first. I wear one skiing and sledding (my best friend is a paramedic in Banff and they see more injuries from the sled hills than the ski hills). Also, my wife is a family physician and she’s pretty uptight about that whole “protecting the brain” thing. I also always wear a helmet while riding my bike and inline skating, but I just can’t bring myself to wear my ski helmet while skating because I’d feel like an idiot. Do as you will. I won’t judge.

On to skates: Mine cost $125 brand new and I’ve had them for over a decade. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a pair of skates for either of my kids because between cousins and friends there have always been hand-me-downs available. Their feet grow faster than dandelions, so I’m not going to go out and spend a bunch of money on something they will wear a half dozen or so times before it starts pinching their toes. When we’re done with them we either hand them down again or donate them. At the very least, when it comes to buying skates for kids, if they’re not skating in competition, then definitely go used.  

There you go. This is mostly a fun-factor advice article. I want you to learn how to enjoy winter without having to spend a fortune or plan an entire day around it. Chances are there is an outdoor rink or random sheet of ice just a few kilometres from your house.

And if you’re skating over water, make sure that ice is thick enough.

Check out our aprés skating menu to keep the fun going.

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Get your free Metabolism Report here.