Cross country skiing is an incredible way to experience a winter landscape, but the benefits of this sport are much more than the opportunity to see some gorgeous countryside. Cross country skiing is also an unbelievable workout: exercising all the major muscle groups, providing cardiovascular exercise, and burning plenty of calories, it's an amazing way to enjoy the slopes.


Regular cardiovascular exercise is the best way to strengthen your heart and lungs, to improve your aerobic fitness and greatly improve your cardiovascular health. Cross country skiing is unarguably one of the best cardiovascular workouts there is, with its ability to fully engage the body to maintain forward movement. A related aspect of this is that cross country skiing routes typically incorporate both uphill and downhill stretches, which means the typical route incorporates short bursts of very high-intensity movement—making it similar to the kind of workout provided by interval training.

Just as important is the fact that cross country skiing is a very low-impact cardiovascular exercise. In contrast to something like running, which primarily exercises the legs and involves repeated impacts, cross country skiing uses the entire body, which means that no single muscle group becomes overstressed, and there are none of the impact-related shocks that occur in running.

And finally, there's the fact that cross country skiing burns a very large number of calories—approximately as many as running, and around twice as many as downhill skiing.


The body movements that are involved in cross country skiing are surprisingly complex, and they're highly challenging movements that involve all of the body's major muscle groups: the shoulders, back, and arms, chest and core, hips, thighs, and legs. In fact, scientific studies involving a kind of analysis called positron emission tomography have shown that, while the primary muscles involved in the movement are the shoulders and arms, abdominal muscles and hip flexors, there are significant levels of muscle activity all over the body during the exercise.

What this confirms is what cross country skiers already know: this sport is an amazing full-body workout that challenges the entire body. This is particularly so when you regularly ski routes that have both downhill and uphill elements; while those downhill stretches are less challenging, climbing uphill on skis can definitely get your muscles working harder.


Regular cardiovascular exercise isn't just important for physical health; it's also an important way of improving your mental health and overall well-being. There are many mental health benefits to regular exercise: reduced anxiety and stress, less mental fatigue and tension, improved sleeping habits, and overall elevated mood are just a few. Just as important, people who exercise regularly have a decreased risk of developing mood disorders like depression and anxiety disorder. All of these mental benefits are due largely to the fact that exercise helps to combat the effects of stress hormones like adrenaline and nor adrenaline, because exercise promotes the production of endorphins and dopamine, hormones which produce feelings of well-being and improved mood. There's also something to be said for the outdoor aspect of the sport: exercising outdoors is known to be particularly beneficial in terms of the effects of exercise on the mood. This is especially important in the winter months, when there are fewer hours of sunlight.

Another important benefit is the immense satisfaction of training for and achieving new fitness-related goals; it's certainly an amazing feeling to complete a cross-country skiing course, plan and complete new routes, and enjoy the many other benefits of the sport.

Researched and written by Helen Loughran


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