You’re unlikely to need telling that speeding down a sunny, snowy piste makes you feel healthy and happy. But while the physical benefits of skiing are obvious, it has only been in recent studies that science have proved that the mental benefits of snowsports are just as valuable. So what exactly is getting active in the mountains doing for our bodies and our minds?
Faith in nature
Skiing inherently takes us into wild places and gives us a big dose of fresh air and sunshine, key players in boosting our mental health in the winter months. We humans get our vitamin D needs from sunlight, and vitamin D deficiency is a growing problem as more of us are spending most of our lives indoors or in the dark in the winter months. Vitamin D is proven to fight disease and reduce the risk of depression, and a day or a week of skiing means you’ll get a dose of all the sunlight you need, and yes, it still counts if the sky is overcast - just 13 minutes of sunshine has been proven to boost your health. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, has been linked to low vitamin D levels, and while light therapy is often prescribed to sufferers, just one hour of outdoor aerobic activity such as - you guessed it - skiing has been shown to have the same benefits as 2.5 hours of indoor light treatment.
A study led by Stanford University found that city dwellers have a 20% higher risk of depression than rural residents and a 40% increased risk of mood disorders. Since half the world’s population lives in urban areas, it’s not feasable for us all to up sticks and move into a remote log cabin in search of mental wellbeing - but the study also found that just spending a few days in remote areas on a ski trip can lead to better mental calmness and clarity.
The brain game
As well as boosting our happiness, skiing can also improve mental dexterity, as snowsports are classed as is a proprioceptive activity. Also referred to as kinaesthesia, proprioception is our ability to feel the position and movement of our different body parts, and how they work together. Skiing’s reliance on good balance and coordination is the perfect sport for improving prorioception, which can otherwise weaken with age. And aerobic sports are also proven to help people think more clearly and increase cognitive capacity, meaning that skiers are likely to be better learners in other areas of life.
The final mental benefit of skiing is our favourite excuse for a drink on the mountainside - participating in a highly sociable sport such as skiing is great for our mental health. A study from Yonsei University in Korea found that the social aspect of snowsports have proven positive psychological outcomes, and that just a single day skiing with others contributes to better wellbeing and reduces stress. Spot of science-backed après, anyone?
And charities are catching on - charity Snowbility have helped over 10,000 people with disabilities to gain from the pysciological benefits of skiing and snowboarding. It seems the mountains and the mind are perfectly linked.