Photo by Flickr user Marty Portier.
Photo by Flickr user Marty Portier.

According to the Canadian Ski Council, approximately 2.5 million Canadians ski and snowboard each year. That is roughly 275 times larger than the entire population of students at UBC Okanagan. With many students planning to hit the slopes over the break, the hidden health benefits of skiing and snowboarding are often unknown.

First off, a concept called “hypoxia preconditioning” can actually save your life. This fancy term refers to a period of decreased oxygen concentration in body tissues, which can result in some degree of protection from heart attacks. When exercising on top of a snowy mountain, the high altitude can represent a unique model of hypoxia preconditioning and evoke health benefits under certain conditions. So yes, being forced to study instead of skiing or snowboarding could literally break your heart! (tell that to your professors)

Another humongous health benefit is the large number of calories that are burned while skiing and snowboarding. Experts suggest that an average day on the mountain burns about 3000 calories. This is more than most people eat in an entire day! The cold temperatures on the hill raise body temperature, which in turn burns even more calories. Furthermore, when exposed to cold temperatures, the body produces an increased amount of brown fat. This relatively rare form of fat is packed with mitochondria that lower body mass index. According to a 2005 article by Kahl, this occurs when energy is burned, and heat is produced in a way that boosts metabolism . Perhaps that all-too-real winter hibernation body can be avoided.

Finally, the benefits associated with physical activity undeniably improve mental health. When the muscle fibers in your quads and glutes fire, many neurotransmitters are released such as endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Numerous studies show that a boost in these chemicals can help to decrease depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Over an extended period, skiers and snowboarders benefit from better health status. With increasing yearly skiing frequency, people suffer less from problems like hypercholesterolemia, systemic hypertension, diabetes, mental stress, and the occurrence of memory deficits.

Evidently, spending time up on the mountain can significantly improve your health. However, skiing and snowboarding can get expensive. Some other snowy activities that can reap similar health benefits for lower costs include snowshoeing, sledding, skating, and of course – epic snowball fights.