Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Figure Skating for Exercise

I met a woman M.D. last year who told me that she had been to a medical conference at Harvard. One of the conclusions presented was that the best exercises for mature people (me! me!) were figure skating and dancesport.

Yes You Can!

So I've been skating for a few years, and I have some experience that I'd like to write about.

1. Figure Skating burns more calories than aerobics-even more than step aerobics. Someone gave me one of those heart rate/calorie monitor watches for Christmas a couple of years ago. Figure skating, even just for play, consistently beat aerobics for calorie burning by 10-20%. I would struggle in aerobics to burn 350 calories in an hour, and end up with sore knees and hips. Just tooling along working on my stroking and figures, I'd easily burn 400 calories in an hour. Apparently, I'm something of a slacker. According to the Harvard Women's Health Newsletter, the calories burned per HALF-hour for women of the following weights are:
                              Calories burned per HALF HOUR
                             125 pound person155 pound person185 pound person
Ice Skating: general      210                           260                    311               

2. Figure skating improves your balance, helping develop skills and coordination to prevent falls in later life. Lack of muscle strength and coordination are the leading cause of falls in those over 65. A broken hip in an older person is often a death knell. As much as 20% of older people with a broken hip die within a year. Half of all, die within TWO YEARS.  While skating helps maintain those balance and coordination skills, it also helps you know how to fall. This in of itself may help prevent serious injuries.

3.  Improves your endurance. The ability to exercise for extended periods of time is enhanced by skating.  The fact that the rink is cool encourages exercise because you don't get overheated.  Some medications common in the more mature athlete make overheating more likely, therefore a rink is a safe place to work on endurance without having that worry.

4. Skating is a gateway sport.  People who enjoy skating often take up other exercise activities in order to improve their skating. Someone who just likes to stroke around may take up yoga to help get a spiral. Adults who want better posture for ice dance may also do yoga, but also take up weight training. Improving balance may result in going to the Y to use the balance board or a class on improving core strength.

5. Skating improves your grace and movement. Because skating relies on your coordination and balance on ice, you'll notice that your off ice coordination and balance improve too. I actually had one of my doctors comment on this as I hopped down off the exam table.

6. Even with the falls, I've found skating less stressful on the body that almost any other exercise. When I used to do aerobics, an hour class would leave me with sore knees and hips. Skating the next day, would take that pain away.

7.  I took up skating because hot flashes were making it too hot to exercise in the summer. Solved that problem by getting on the ice. Haven't looked back.

I'm waiting to meet this guy

While researching this post, I discovered here, why mature (oh, let's face it--OLDER) women can't build up muscle the way men can (such as the man in the picture above).  Apparently, our bodies are unable to store protein in muscles after menopause. To counter this we need to eat more protein. The researchers recommended more meat and eggs in women's diets. They also recommended resistance training (called weight training over here).

So, no matter how old you are, even if you're no longer testing or competing or taking lessons, figure skating is STILL good for  You!


  1. Great article! Im actually just finishing my senior research paper on the benefits of off-ice conditioning for skaters of all ages. I'm definitely going to cite your article to include in my conclusion of how great skating is for everyone :)

  2. While I would love to believe the figures I'm not convinced I do...I seem to spend a lot of time doing things very slowly to practice. While I can believe an hour of fast forward/backward crosses would reach 500 cals per hour, I struggle to believe that an hour of practicing slow 3 turns/twizzles does the same. Has anyone come across any academic papers about this that actually say what sort of skating was looked at? I wish I could believe it though...that would be awesome!

    1. Well, for one thing the numbers are averaged and include both men and women. A mean is meaningless without variance. A variance of 50 would indicate there's considerable deviation between test subjects. Also the numbers are tied to weight not height. So, my experience is that I burn less than the numbers--that's probably related to the fact I'm short. Also, they don't talk about what 'ice skating: general' means. I'm assuming it's a recreational skater stroking around since the table describes 'leisure' activities. The source is: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities.htm

      I think if you want to get some data as to how these apply to you, then you'd need to use one of those calorie watches (although those algorithms have issues too). Let's just say if you use a calorie watch you can tell if one exercise burns more calories than another.

  3. I've found that skating is excellent for those with fibromyalgia, as well. It's a chronic condition that is helped by mild exercise, but with the fatigue and pain it causes, it's very difficult to exercise. By skating regularly, I've been able to build up my stamina and get more exercise now than I ever have before. Part of it is because it's skating--it's fun! It doesn't seem like exercise. Plus, as you said, it's a mild form of exercise, so it's much gentler on my body, so I don't ache or have stiff joints the next day.

    Now, I'm not talking jumps and fancy stuff, here, just basic moves, along with general skating (in circles around the rink). The only caveat is that falls can be more painful, because with fibromyalgia your body takes stresses harder. A minor fall can trigger a flare-up, even if you didn't hurt yourself that badly. That's why I'm going into ice dancing instead of freestyle--no jumps, less chances of injury.

    Since I started skating, my health has improved. I feel stronger and I can walk longer distances. Hopefully my balance will improve with time, as well.