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5 Best Winter Sports to Try

Snowboarding

Snowboarding uses the calf muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps to guide the board; ankle and foot muscles for steering; and abdominal muscles for balance. It also burns about 480 calories per hour for someone weighing 150 pounds.

Jonathan Chang, MD, of Pacific Orthopaedic Associates in Alhambra, CA, says another key perk of snowboarding, and many other sports, is that "the thrill of shredding the powder is good for your mental health."

Recent studies, Chang says, indicate people's mood and anxiety level improve when they exercise outdoors.

Chang says many snowboarders get good cardiovascular benefits and calorie burning from the extended exercise that comes from getting their money's worth from the lift ticket. But for safety's sake, be sure you don't push past the limits of your energy and ability.

Here are Chang's tips for recreational snowboarding:

  • Pick terrain that's appropriate for your skill level.
  • To burn more calories and get a better workout, seek out a more challenging or steeper route -- but only if you have the skills to handle it.
  • Be sure to gear up properly: Wear a helmet and wrist and elbow guards.
  • Don’t get in over your head. If you're a beginner, Chang recommends taking lessons instead of "pointing downhill and figuring it out."

Ice Skating

Orthopedic surgeon Angela Smith, isn't just a fan of ice skating. She's also the former chairwoman of the U.S. Figure Skating Sports Medicine Committee and continues to win medals in the U.S. Figure Skating National Showcase.

"I think [ice skating] truly addresses all components of fitness at any level," she says. "It can be done across a lifetime and can be done individually or as a group sport. All those things [together] make it a pretty unique sport in my mind."

Ice skating is a low-impact exercise -- unless you're doing a lot of jumps -- that's good for building lower-body muscles including the hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. Performing jumps can build bone mass, Smith adds.

Skating also boosts balance, flexibility, quickness, and agility. Different kinds of skaters develop different muscles. Speed skaters get larger thighs; men who lift a partner have stronger upper bodies; and people who do lots of jumps are less muscular in the upper body, Smith says.

Another benefit, Smith says, is you can burn calories even as a beginner. If you're a new skater, you may use a lot of energy just getting around a rink a few times. As it becomes easier, you can skate longer and continue to build strength and endurance.

Smith’s tip for new skaters is to know that skates run about a size below street shoes. Many people don’t know this and never get past the pain. "There is no such thing as weak ankles," she says. "The shoes just don’t fit right."

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