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1st Aug

2011

Alpine skiing- Health Benefits and Preparation

Now that the summer is soon coming to a close, it is time, for those of us who like snow skiing, to start thinking about getting ourselves ready. In this newsletter, I will describe a brand new study which has also shown that alpine skiing can greatly promote improved health in older individuals.

A new Austrian study was published this month, named the Salzburg Skiing for the Elderly Study, which aimed to monitor the long-term effects of alpine skiing on health-related parameters of older individuals (Müller et al, 2011). Intermediate level skiers, with an average age of 67.5 years, participated in a 12 week study, with an average of 28.5 days of guided skiing, who were compared to a control group. The participants averaged 3.5 hours of skiing per day, with 68 minutes of actual skiing time during 9-10 ski runs. The mean heart rate in skiers was 73% of estimated maximal heart rate during the ski runs, of 7 minutes average length, and 59% of maximal heart rate during the recovery phase between runs, which averaged 13 minutes in length.

The main findings of the study showed that alpine skiing 2-3 times per week for 12 weeks in older, average-trained men and women leads to a significant increase in aerobic capacity, leg muscle power and strength. The mean oxygen uptake (VO2 max) improved by 7.2%, power measures by 17%, and maximal dynamic quadriceps strength by 16%. Additionally, the quadriceps muscle size increased by 7.1% with an equal increase in slow twitch and fast twitch muscle fibers. Furthermore, the patellar tendons estimated tolerance to strain increased by 14%. Other benefits included increased glucose metabolism, decreased postural sway and improved psychological measures.

The aging process naturally produces declines in functional capacities including cardiorespiratory capacity, muscle strength and power, coordination, postural stability, and an increased risk of falls. Inactivity and social isolation in older individuals may also lead to depression and other psychological disorders. However, many studies have shown that activity and exercise can substantially improve such functional qualities and fitness, as well as promote independence and quality of life. The Salzburg study shows that alpine skiing, which has been suggested to be an appropriate activity for the elderly, can provide significant health benefits in moderately trained older individuals, with a low risk of adverse events.

Considering that alpine skiing can be a challenging form of exercise, proper preparation and pre-seasoning conditioning is recommended, to prevent injuries and muscle soreness. Neuromuscular qualities are best trained in an activity specific fashion, exercising our musculoskeletal system in ways similar to how we use it in activities and sports. This promotes improved coordination needed for the activity, and specific muscular qualities such as muscular endurance and strength with slow and fast shortening (concentric) and lengthening (eccentric) contractions. Isometric endurance is also needed in alpine skiing, i.e. the ability to hold a contraction for a long period of time. However, studies have shown that this quality is not best promoted by training the muscle isometrically, i.e. without motion, as done with the traditional “wall squat”, but by training to increase the muscle’s dynamic strength. Much of skiing training should be done in standing on one and both legs, training the calf, quadriceps, hamstrings, and buttock as well as back and abdominal musculature, and shoulder and arm muscles such as the triceps and latissimus dorsi.

Best wishes for continued good health,

Gunnar

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