Physician Fitness: Embrace Your Inner Wild Child with Snowboarding

An increasingly popular winter sport, snowboarding has its own attitude and culture, superstars, and fancy equipment. It's a great way to spend time outdoors and work every muscle in your body.

Editor’s Note: This article is the fourth in an occasional series by Nickole Kerner Bobley examining the myriad sports and activities physicians enjoy in their spare time. Each article looks at the origin and history of the sport and its health benefits. For previous stories, click here.

When I think of snowboarding, fun and dangerous images spring to mind from the film The Living Daylights, where British secret agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton) and Russian assassin and classical musician (Maryam D’Abo) slide dangerously down a snowy mountain in a cello case.

Now an increasingly popular winter sport, snowboarding has its own attitude and culture, superstars, and fancy equipment. Participants ride customized epoxy fiberglass boards down a ski slope or on a half-pipe ramp, a specialized snow structure used for performing tricks. It looks like skateboarding on the snow. Like skateboarding, snowboarders are recommended to wear a helmet and elbow, wrist, and knee pads. There is an inherent wildness of spirit to this exercise sport.

Snowboarding offers a number of health benefits. However, before you try this sport you need to already be in pretty good shape as this will make learning this sport easier and protect you from injury. At first you will spend a great deal of time using your core and knees as you repeatedly pull yourself up from the ground as you begin to understand the physics of this sport.

Why It’s Good For You

Like any form of exercise, snowboarding releases endorphins, the neuro-chemicals in your brain that create feelings of well-being and happiness. It’s also an exercise sport that takes place outdoors and this being-in-nature elevates mood, helps reduce anxiety, and lowers overall stress levels.

To apply an old surfing adage to snowboarding: the best snowboarder is the one having the most fun. Fun in exercise always proves a key ingredient to staying with it, making exercise a habit.

Why Doctors Like It

Snowboarding is pure aerobic exercise so it’s a great way to lose weight and build muscle tone. The average person burns 450 calories per hour while snowboarding. The average snowboarding spends about four hours exercising — racking up a whopping 1,800 calories burn per workout. It also helps improve balance and overall flexibility.

Snowboarding works all the muscle groups: the muscles in your ankles and feet which help you steer the board, your core which balances your body on the board itself, and your arms and shoulders which are used for both balance and torque as you repeatedly pick yourself up off the ground to stand up from a fall.

How It Started

Introduced in the United States in 1965 when Sherman Poppen bolted two skis together, snowboarding became popular with the introduction of commercial snowboards in the late 1970s. Today, with more than 3.4 million participants, snowboarding is the fastest growing winter sport in the United States. The popularity of snowboarding was further boosted after its introduction as an Olympic sport at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan. In the 1980s, most snowboarders were young males. Now there are just as many females enjoying the sport.

Snowboarding Versus Skiing

A friendly rivalry between skiing and snowboarding naturally emerged as snowboarding arrived on the official winter sports scene. The National Sporting Goods Association estimates that since 1988, the number of snowboarders has increased 77%, whereas the number of skiers has fallen 25%.

Snowboarding differs from downhill skiing in many respects. Snowboarders ride with both feet affixed by non-releasable bindings to a single board. Unlike downhill skiers, snowboarders stand perpendicular to their boards. Furthermore, snowboarders do not use ski poles, but use their hands and arms for balance, much like ice or roller skaters, skateboarders or surfers.

If you decide to try snowboarding as exercise know that you will make up any outdoor time deficits in your year, get an endorphin, rush and work out every major muscle group in your body. You may even find yourself feeling every bit as enduring, confident and wild as 007.