Photo Credit: Aspen Snowmass
“Unprecedented times.” We’ve been hearing those two words a lot. Turns out, times without precedence aren’t great for mental health. Nearly all of my friends and family that I’ve talked to, even the ones who I can rely on for optimism, have been feeling down in the dumps recently. A long hot summer full of fires and social unrest, a fall filled with a tumultuous election and a winter still plagued by COVID-19 have negatively affected many people’s mental health.
One thing helping many of us ease our mental health is hitting the slopes. While it may seem superficial to be optimistic about snow sports when so many across the country are struggling, the mental health benefits of skiing and snowboarding are anything but. Being consistently stressed and fatigued by what is going on can be a serious blow to one’s mental and physical health including “negatively impacting sleep, fostering brain fog, messing with emotional regulation, and ‘even impacting existing medical conditions’” notes an article by Well + Good. Sometimes the best way to prevent mental burnout is to blow off a little steam and hitting the slopes is a great way to do so.
Exercise for Mental Health
It’s no secret that exercise is a great way to improve your physical as well as mental health. “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function,” a 2006 study by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found. Whether skiing deep powder or gently riding groomers, skiing and snowboarding are great sources of exercise. An average day on the slopes can burn upwards of 975 calories in just 3 hours and skiing is a way to increase metabolic and cardiorespiratory health. Numbers aside, skiing and snowboarding just feel good! The burn in your legs, the cold air coming in with every heavy breath, the ache in those muscles that are only used on the slope, and the relief you get each time you sit down on the lift; those feelings will often heal what ails you.
Nature to Nurture
Next to exercise, there are few things that can pull people out of a rut more than nature. For many, an escape to the mountains and trees is purifying, it can soothe the soul. Is it the fresh air? The quiet and peacefulness? Is it just human nature? Recently, researchers are finding that this phenomenon is more than just anecdotal: there’s science behind it! According to a July article by Harvard Men’s Health Watch, there is a “strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.” Research into ecotherapy “a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature” suggests that spending time in nature can “lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol.” So, while we’re not saying that taking the lift to the top of the mountain and taking in the scenery will help you feel better, we are saying that it certainly couldn’t hurt.
I have had some of my most cathartic days on the slopes when riding by myself. Being alone in nature with no responsibilities or restrictions is incredibly liberating. That being said, the days on the slopes that I remember best, and the ones that have pulled me out of ruts, are the ones shared with friends and family members. There’s nothing quite like a day with friends on the slope, and research has proven that socialization can “lighten your mood and make you feel happier” (Mercy Care). Additionally, an early 2000’s survey found that “face-to-face visits…may do more to prevent depression than phone calls, email, and texting” (Psychology Today). In a year where we are all starved for social interaction, skiing with a friend in a safe and socially distanced environment, could have a significant benefit to mental health.
Skiing and snowboarding won’t fix everything going on in the world, but it might give you the reprieve you need from the stressors of the last year. We’ve all had a long 12 months, some of us more than others, and I think we all deserve to take a break. So, turn off the TV, strap on those ski boots and go look at some trees.
Curious about how to hit the slopes safely and within resort guidelines? Take a look at our COVID-19 information page.