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On Track with Cross-Country Skiing


Gliding into winter is easy with this low-impact sportThe quiet swish swish of skis over snow is one of the supreme joys of winter.

The quiet swish swish of skis over snow is one of the supreme joys of winter. Not the high-octane excitement of zipping downhill, but the whole-body immersion-with-nature experience of cross-country skiing. Each winter and often during fall and well into spring, more than 2.5 million Canadians don skis and take to groomed trails rather than moguls. Cross-country skiing is the most popular ski sport in the country, according to the national organization Cross Country Canada.

While northern folks used to hibernate during the winter months, today it is recognized that good health and well-being require year-round attention. Physical activity stimulates the heart, increases oxygen supply to every cell in the body, improves circulation to cold feet and fingertips and restores balance to the body and mind. Exercise is important for a strong immune system; it keeps the vital organs healthy, supports the circulatory and lymphatic systems and helps the body detoxify. It's one of the simplest and best ways for relieving stress. The combination of exercise and fresh air ensures a good night's sleep. A good workout even helps you maintain regular bowel movements! Cross-country skiing delivers all these health benefits, and more.

A Whole-Body Winter Workout

In the winter, the body is under added stress because of cold weather. Consequently, it has greater metabolic demands than in warmer seasons. You may sometimes feel sluggish from inactivity, so it's doubly important to exercise during cold winter months as a way to keep fit, regain energy, sweat a little and detoxify in the process.

Both fitness and medical professionals agree: cross-country skiing is one of the best cardiovascular fitness activities. Like all aerobic workouts, this sport keeps the heart pumping at an elevated rate for an extended period of time, boosts "good" HDL cholesterol and helps control blood pressure. It also builds endurance, strengthens the spine and helps maintain normal weight or aids weight loss. (A 175-pound man can burn up to 800 calories per hour on cross-country skis.) Athletes find that it is an excellent cross-training sport for running and biking.

Best of all, cross-country skiing is an ideal low-impact sport (easy on knees and joints) that exercises all major muscle groups and keeps the body in a better state of physical balance, resulting in fewer injuries. However, there are many more reasons beyond physical fitness to choose this wonderful winter activity.

Sport for All Ages

You're never too young or too old to cross-country ski. While on the trails, many older adults who fly by in peak physical condition confirm that cross-country skiing is a sport for a lifetime and excellent low-stress exercise. Their old-fashioned wooden skis and poles demonstrate decades of experience. In fact, about 13 percent of cross-country skiers are over 55.

The whole family can join in this versatile sport. Enthusiasts pack their toddlers into special sleds and pull them along safely, and get a great workout at the same time. At three to five years of age, kids can easily start learning to ski in groomed tracks and progress from there. Once you're on the trails, you'll meet both young and old who care about physical fitness and enjoy the outdoors. The good news for single males is that nearly 60 per cent of cross-country skiers are women. (If you appreciate tight buns, cross-country skiers have some of the best!) No time during the day or on weekends to ski? Many ski areas light up trails at night, allowing you to hit the trails after work and experience the moonlight amid peacefully falling snowflakes.

Finally, nothing beats the scenery and the fresh air as you wind along mountain trails and through forests. Breathing in the aromas found in nature is especially healing to the respiratory organs. The snow is calling, so get out and enjoy the incredible beauty and natural resources of our winter wonderland. There's no need to hibernate this winter with cross-country skiing to keep you on track.



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Shawn RadcliffeShawn Radcliffe