Going for good health

Winter sports offer Olympic-size wellness benefits for everyone

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Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2014

As all eyes turn to watch the world's best athletes compete for gold at the 22nd Winter Olympics this February in Sochi, Russia, you may be wondering how someone becomes an elite athlete and why.

How many hours of training, years of sacrifice and dedication did they put in? Some people believe it's over 10,000 hours. As for why, perhaps it's the glory of winning a medal, representing your country, or enjoying constantly pushing yourself to the limit.

For the rest of us, the health benefits of participating in sport might be enough motivation. Strong muscles and bones, cardiovascular fitness, increased flexibility, and positive mental health are just some of the many. You too can achieve these great health benefits by being active here in Winnipeg. Staying physically active throughout the winter maintains your summer fitness and is a chance to try some new activities.

While there is not one "super" sport that will provide all benefits, we have compiled a list of some Olympic sports and the health benefits they can provide to those participating at a recreational or competitive level. Choosing a sport is sort of like choosing a pet. Pick a sport that suits your lifestyle, one that you enjoy and will give you the benefits you are looking for.

With so many great winter sports and activities, there is a match for everyone.

Cross-country skiing

Cross-country skiing is a great activity for any age. It is a life-long sport that is easy on the joints. It is a true heart-pumping exercise using your legs and arms for a full-body activity. Life-long skiers in their 80s were shown to have twice the cardiovascular and muscular strength as non-skiers.

Winnipeg has many great cross-country ski trails within city limits and more just outside the Perimeter Highway. As we are constantly reminded, we have lots of great snow here in Winnipeg. Each winter, the Windsor Park Golf Course transforms itself into the Windsor Park Nordic Centre, offering cross-country skiers a great place to ski. Check out the Cross-Country Ski Association of Manitoba's website for locations and grooming updates for trails inside and outside the city at ccsam.ca/where-to-ski.


Manitoba is known for producing many of the world's best men's and women's curling champions. A number of other countries are beginning to excel in curling on the world stage, as they embrace the art and science of the sport. Curling offers physical health benefits in addition to positive mental health benefits through the social aspect of curling. Curlers improve their balance and strength as they sweep their way down the length of the ice. Flexibility is gained in the delivery of the rock from the hack. Like cross-country skiing, it is another sport that can be played throughout your life.

There are more than a dozen curling clubs scattered throughout each corner of Winnipeg. Each club offers a wide range of leagues, as well as clinic and camp opportunities to learn the game and improve your skills. Wheelchair curling, one of the sports featured in the 2014 Paralympics, is also played here in Winnipeg. For more information on how to get started, visit curlmanitoba.org.

Downhill skiing

 Also referred to as alpine skiing, downhill skiing can fulfill your inner need for speed and playfulness. Downhill skiing offers a great lower-body workout. Tucking in a squat as you head down the hill engages your quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves, building strong muscles that will transfer into everyday activities. Despite being a flat Prairie province, Manitoba is home to seven different downhill ski facilities. A map, along with a description of each of the different ski hills can be found on skimanitoba.com.


Canada has a strong tradition in men's and women's hockey. With short, quick bursts of play, it is interval training on skates, and a great way to stay fit with friends. Hockey is played at many levels, from competitive clubs to recreation leagues for both men and women. Grab your skates, helmet and a stick and head out to your local outdoor ice surfaces for a fun pick-up game with family and friends. Look for clubs and other "Just Play" opportunities at the Hockey Manitoba website, hockeymanitoba.ca. Or head out to one of the many outdoor ponds or ice surfaces throughout Winnipeg. For more information, visit winnipeg.ca and search "pleasure rinks."

Unsteady on skates? Maybe sledge hockey is the game for you. Sledge hockey is the Paralympic version of ice hockey. It debuted at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer and has quickly become one of the largest attractions for spectators taking in the Paralympics. Check out Sledge Hockey Manitoba's website at sledgehockeymanitoba.com.


If you are a fair-weather runner, this may be the perfect off-season activity. Not only is it a winter alternative, the side-to-side glides are far gentler on your joints than running. Of course, this disappears when you add the spectacular jumps found in figure skating. The good news is that jumps go a long way to build strong bones.

Winnipeg is the mecca for outdoor skating opportunities. Check out the River Trail at the Forks or one of the many pleasure rinks and frozen ponds. Head out to your local community centre - gcwcc.mb.ca. Don't know how to skate? No worries! Sign up for lessons for all ages through the Leisure Guide or find a club on the Skate Manitoba website at mbskates.ca.


While snowboarding is one of the newer sports listed here, it is considered one of the fastest-growing sports. Like skiing, snowboarding works many lower-body muscles. Not only that, core body (abdominals and low back) strength is key to balancing on a snowboard. The more you ride, the more you challenge and strengthen these muscles!

Snowboarding and skiing has been shown to increase balance, motor skills and self-esteem among people with a disability. Check out Adrenaline Adventures at adrenalinemb.com in Winnipeg and the Manitoba ski resorts at skicentral.com/manitoba.html for places to snowboard!

Kristine Hayward is a physical activity promotion co-ordinator with the Winnipeg Health Region.


Activate the time you spend watching the Olympics!

Television coverage of the Olympics is extensive. It is a time when we can cheer on our Canadian athletes and share in their achievements. But how can we stay healthy when glued to the TV? Break up the time you spend sitting by trying one of these five activities every 20 to 30 minutes.

Sit to stand

While sitting on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the floor, reach your arms out in front of you. Slowly stand up, without using your arms, if possible. Return to a seated position. Repeat 10 to 15 times. This activity gets the blood flowing and helps to build strong legs.

Climb stairs

During a commercial break, head for the stairs. Climb up and down the stairs for 30 seconds to one minute. Don't have stairs? No problem! March on the spot for one minute.

Cross country ski on the spot

Be a part of the winter fun. Mimic cross-country skiing in the middle of your living room. Add a little hop in the middle for
extra intensity.

Host a dance party

Get up and dance. From ballroom to line dancing, waltz to hip hop, whatever your genre, let the music inspire you to move.

Challenge your balance

Stand beside your chair. Shift your weight onto your left foot and bend your right knee so that your right foot is slightly off the floor. Balance on your left foot for 30 seconds. Repeat on your right foot. Hold onto the back of the chair for support if needed.

Breaking up sedentary time has many health benefits. It can lower your risk for developing cardiovascular disease and reduce your triglycerides. It can even help you manage your weight. For more information on Canada's Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, visit csep.ca/guidelines.


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