November 30, 2009 / 11:06 AM / 9 years ago

Ice skating: cold days, warm core

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - ‘Tis the season when the days grow short, the wind blows fierce, and sleet-covered streets discourage that early morning jog.

So why not lace up?

Experts say ice skating is a whole body workout sure to chase those winter blues away, whether you’re up for a solo glide, a get together with pals, a family outing or a first date.

“Being outside in brisk air, there’s nothing that speaks to fun exercise more than that,” said Dawn Malone, a skating director and coach for 35 years. “Even if you go out once a week for an hour, there are incredible benefits in cardio-vascular, core strength and balance.”

You don’t even have to wait for the pond to freeze over. During the holiday season, New York, London, Chicago and Paris are just a few of the major cities that install temporary ice rinks amid their Christmas trees and colored lights.

Technological improvements have made these urban oases possible, according to Malone, spokesperson for the Ice Skating Institute, the trade association that created the first learn-to-skate program in the 1960’s.

“The only outdoor facilities I saw in my younger years were ones that were naturally frozen,” she said.

Ice skating is thought to have originated at least 1000 years ago when people in Scandinavia and the Netherlands laced animal bones to their footwear to transport themselves across frozen canals and waterways.

Malone said these days there are an estimated 10.7 million skaters of some kind in the United States alone.

“It’s a sport that you can do from three to 93. It’s not any more dangerous than walking down the street. A little slippery, Yes.” she said. “But if the skates fit correctly the exercise comes naturally.”

Still she recommends that the first-timer seek out a group class or a coach.

“A well-run rink will always have someone available during operating hours,” she added.

Todd Galati, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise, says it’s the seasoned skater, not the novice, who is likely to go faster, and so fall harder.

“More dangerous is the ice you don’t see when you’re walking in your driveway.” Galati, an exercise physiologist, explained. “We change the way we move when we know we’re walking on ice.”

Galati thinks ice skating is a great winter workout. He said a 150-pound recreational skater doing a combination of faster and slower skating will expend a whopping eight and one-half calories per minute.

And unlike running it’s easy on the joints.

“With running you have to land. The gliding motion of ice skating takes away that pounding, repetitive motion of hitting the ground,” Galati explained.

“You’re going to get a full-body exercise. You’re exercising all the muscles that control posture. “

Of course ice skating is not just for cold weather. Galati says even in sunny San Diego, California, where he works, a shopping mall opens an ice rink for the season.

Malone says there are 26 ice surfaces within a 20-minute drive of her Dallas, Texas headquarters. She also believes it is a year-round activity for everyone.

“I’ve heard so many people say, ‘I can’t skate because I have weak ankles,’” she said. “That’s a myth. Unless you don’t have any ankles you can skate.”

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