With the winter Olympics kicking off, you might be wondering which (if any) winter sports are safe for you to try.
In addition to favorite pastimes like skiing, snowshoeing and ice skating, athletes in the winter Olympics are shining a light on lesser-known sports that are worth checking out if you're feeling adventurous. (Curling anyone?)
Breaking Down Winter Olympic Sports
Whether you prefer snow or ice, there are plenty of cold-weather activities that offer a heart-pumping workout — and you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to join in the fun. A bonus: Many of these activities are easy on your joints and offer cross-training benefits.
- Cross-country skiing. Cross-country skiing is a full-body, endurance pursuit similar to running. But since you're gliding through the snow, not pounding pavement, there's less stress and strain on your joints — and a lower risk of repetitive use injuries.
- Ice skating. Figure skating is among the most popular winter Olympic sports. It's also the oldest sport in the winter program. Even if you feel unsteady on ice skates (and what beginner doesn't?), taking an introductory lesson can help you glide safely while learning proper mechanics. Since falling is common for beginners, make sure you wear some extra padding and take your time as you master new maneuvers.
- Curling. A unique Olympic sport, curling is like shuffleboard on ice. While it may be one of the slower sports in the winter games, it's also a great game to play on the ice with your family.
- Skiing. Skiing is a fun activity for the whole family. But if you're an amateur skier, it's critical to be realistic about your abilities. Don't be afraid to take ski lessons to get the basics under your belt. A ski instructor not only gauges your skill level, but they can also direct you to the slopes that are the best fit for your experience.
- Snowboarding. One of the newer Olympic sports on the circuit, snowboarding was first included at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. But since its introduction, snowboarding has become one of the most popular sports in the Games — and for winter recreation among nonathletes.
No matter which winter sports you choose, make sure you have appropriate equipment that fits. Winter sports gear can get pricey, but try secondhand stores or even rent equipment for weekend use. Just make sure to ask the experts for advice on things like length of skis, boots, bindings, figure skates or hockey skates. Most importantly, make sure to always wear a helmet for activities such as skiing and snowboarding (kids should wear helmets when ice skating too!).
Cold-Weather Sports Caveats
Winter sports can be engaging for everyone, no matter what their age or skill level. You can use the Olympics as inspiration or try one of the many non-Olympic sports that get your heart pumping during colder months. A few favorites:
- Sledding. Tubing and sledding require you to climb up the hill in order to ride your way down. Toboggan runs and sledding hills are a great way to enjoy local parks during the wintertime — and they're fun for the whole family.
- Snowshoeing. Like walking on sand, snowshoeing requires you to navigate uneven surfaces, which helps strengthen your leg and glute muscles.
- Hiking. If the weather is on the mild side, don't be afraid to get outdoors and explore. With newer materials and textiles, it's easier than ever to dress warmly and remove layers as you work your way up a hill or mountain.
Whatever winter activity you choose, keep in mind you’re not competing in the Olympics. If you’ve been mostly sedentary, it's important to start slow. Gradually increase your activity level and be sure to wear appropriate safety gear.
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Christina Eyers, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the Director of Athletic Training & Community Outreach with Henry Ford Sports Medicine. Learn more about Christina.