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Snow Skiing as a Natural Anti-Aging Remedy

Snow Skiing as a Natural Anti-Aging Remedy

By Brian Rog with Contributions by Peter Braun MS, LAT, ATC, ITAT

The effects of time on one’s body are unavoidable and often substantial. Many of us in the field of medicine are in an endless search to find the perfect sport, activity or exercise that will unlock our physical potential, well into our years. Scientific research has found that there are certain factors that contribute to longevity and sustainability. Bone density, lower extremity strength, balance and cardiovascular endurance all play critical roles in maintaining a physically active lifestyle. With this, physicians make an effort to integrate these factors into exercise plans for much of our elderly population. But what if there was a simpler answer? What if we could prescribe involvement in a recreational activity that naturally addresses all these areas? As we unravel the details, we challenge the question; “Is there such a thing as an anti-aging activity?”

Snow Skiing and bone integrity

As we dive into the leading factors that affect our ability to remain physically active, it is important to begin by discussing the foundation of our musculoskeletal system: our bones. Proper bone integrity allows our joints and muscles to function at peak levels. As more research is released clarifying the comorbid factors associated with aging, we are realizing how important bone density truly is. As we get older, it is natural to lead a more sedentary lifestyle. This reduces the forces exerted on our bones and leads to less deposition and remodeling. Consequently, bones become weaker and more fragile.

There is also a threshold where forces may be too much for a bone to adequately tolerate. Therefore, we don’t see many 60 or 70-year-olds participating in heavy plyometric type activity that requires sprinting, jumping, or heavy lifting. What makes skiing so unique is that the peak force exhibited on the bone is achieved over a longer period of time compared to other activities. If someone is running, the peak force at heel strike happens instantaneously and stress is quickly translated through the bones. In skiing, this process is lengthened due to the natural mechanics of a turn. As we begin to turn while skiing, ground reaction force increases and it doesn’t achieve maximum force until the dynamic center of the turn, and gradually reduces as we bring the skis back underneath the body. There is no sharp or sudden spike in pressure or force. This allows for a healthy and acceptable loading of our joints and bones, which optimizes remodeling.

Snow Skiing and lower extremity strength

Lower extremity strength has been promoted by many as a key to upholding a physically active lifestyle and essential to healthy aging. The biomechanics of a skiing turn activate all lower leg muscles in a complex and symmetrically balanced fashion. The intrinsic muscles in the foot are important to control edge initiation and release. These muscles are also essential to foot rotation, which affects the degree and engagement of an edge throughout the turn. The muscles of the lower leg are important for staying balanced and continuously adjusting to the changing pressure and contact with the snow.

Even during various parts of the turn, the hip flexors, quadriceps and hamstrings help create dynamics and proper leg lengthening necessary to carve and ride the edge of the ski. The core, hip flexors, hip rotators, hamstrings and glutes all work harmoniously to transition our body from the initiation of the turn through to its completion. These muscles are stressed, more or less, depending on the size and shape of the turn, slope of the hill, and conditions of the snow.

The combination of all these components create an exceptional foundation for strengthening. In addition, skiing requires a diversity in motor activation patterns, therefore resisting motor specificity and repetition. The movements of skiing are so complex that when coupled with the aid of gravity and slope as we ski downhill, chronic injuries are minimized when compared to many other recreational sports-activities.

Snow Skiing and the role of balance

Balance is another function that tends to decline with age. The rate of falls and severity of resulting injury are often fatal in the elderly population. There are many contributing factors to one’s overall capacity to stay balanced. It is important to recognize that even as we challenge this system there may be limiting factors, whether centrally or peripherally, that inhibit our skills as we age. But there are few other sports that challenge the body in such a dynamic and functional way as skiing. Proprioception is arguably one of the most important skills in skiing. Awareness of our limbs in space allow us to successfully stay standing as we move down the hill. Even in a static fashion, as we click into our skis there is an immediate and drastic reduction in friction under our feet. This makes even the most finite movements more substantial and challenges our joint awareness and control.

As we begin the move down the hill and turn our skis, this skill becomes exponentially more difficult. Our movements, pressure, center of balance, turn dynamics, turn radius, as well as the snow conditions all affect how we need to position our body over our skis. Furthermore, the skier often must be reactive to many of these factors. To put all this in perspective, it would be like executing a balance exercise in the clinic wherein the surface that we are balancing on is changing, while simultaneously shifting weight from side to side, alternating single leg stance, and also reacting to a stimulus (such as catching a ball). Tremendously complex, right? If there are any benefits of proprioceptive training to improve overall balance as we age, you will definitely see the results if skiing is incorporated into your lifestyle.

Get active, and stay active

Individuals in the physical therapy profession and others in the medical field are continually trying to encourage others to enroll in an active lifestyle. We can all agree, regular exercise is important, but leading a life that incorporates consistent and regular activity throughout the days is the main goal – and it shouldn’t stop at 10,000 steps. What we are doing during the time we are not accumulating steps is just as important. When we observe the scope of different activities we can perform to stay physically active, none are quite as sustainable as skiing. Most skiers set aside an entire day to enjoy time on the mountain. Even other sports that are notoriously lengthy such as golf, hiking, or long distance biking and running, don’t even remotely match an eight hour day.

Although activity isn’t continuous, a single run on the slopes, which typically takes only a few minutes, is just enough time to increase the heart rate and stress the musculoskeletal system before resting on the chairlift. This is a perfect combination of rest and exercise that can easily fill an entire day. The sustainability of skiing is what makes it stand apart from most other sports activities. If the overall goal is to create a physically active lifestyle, skiing may be one of the few solitary solutions that can achieve this goal.

We will never be certain as to what is the best thing to do to resist the effects of aging. Our genetics, our bodies, and our history all have a role that is too intricate for us to predict. However, if there’s one thing that is definitive, it’s the positive impact that exercise and activities like skiing brings to someone’s well-being.

Dealing with a lower body injury?

Recognizing and assessing an injury is the first step in ensuring a speedy and effective recovery. Most individuals are led to believe that surgery or opioids are their only lines of defense when dealing with an injury. Instead, consider physical therapy as a first course of action, even if it’s only a screening, which are complimentary at all ATI locations. Recent research suggest that people who underwent physical therapy enjoyed faster recovery and less pain than those who chose alternative routes such as surgery and opioids. Give PT a try!

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Ten Things You Need to Know About Sports Nutrition

Dan Benardot, PhD, DHC, RD, LD, FACSM 

  1. Look Beyond Weight When Determining Health It’s not your weight that matters, it’s what constitutes your weight. Find a way to learn if you have too little muscle or too much fat and find a strategy (exercise and eating well) that increases muscle and lowers fat. The number on the scale might stay the same, but you will look better, perform better and will be healthier.
  2. Building Muscle Takes More Than Just Protein Building muscle requires a combination of:
    • Added resistance to muscles
    • Staying in a good energy balanced state to encourage anabolic hormone production
    • Having a good distribution of nutrients to sustain tissue health
    • Adequate sleep
    • Consuming more protein in the right amounts and at the right times to encourage muscle protein synthesis
  3. Protein: It’s Not Just More, But When and How Much If you are an athlete, you need about double the protein as nonathletes, but just eating more protein isn’t enough. It must be consumed in the right amounts, at the right times and when in a reasonably good energy balanced state. Randomly eating more protein doesn’t accomplish what the body needs.
  4. Infrequent Meals Cause Problems Meal skipping, or eating in a pattern that fails to satisfy energy requirements in real time, creates many problems including higher body fat levels, lower lean mass and greater cardiometabolic risk factors. Interestingly, more frequent eating is associated with lower total caloric intake because of better ghrelin (appetite hormone) control.
  5. Eating Good Foods Helps the Microbiome Keep You Healthy Inadequate intake of fresh fruits and vegetables may alter the microbiome, resulting in higher body fat percentage and reduced athletic performance. Consuming plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables helps to sustain good bacterial colonies that live in the gut. Additional benefit: Fruits and vegetables give you the carbs you may lack for maximal performance.
  6. Good Food, Bad Food, Wrong Choice There is no perfect food, and if you keep eating the same food(s) because you believe it’s good for you, you place yourself at nutritional risk. There is no substitute for eating a wide variety of foods that are well-distributed throughout the day. You don’t get too much of anything potentially bad, and you expose tissues to all the nutrients they need.
  7. Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S) can be a Problem The best exercise performance occurs when you have enough energy to support the exercise. If you frequently post-load by consuming the energy (calories) after the workout/competition, be aware of the potential health and performance consequences. You can’t drive your car on an empty tank of gas, and neither can you perform well if your tank is empty.
  8. Poor Hydration, Poor Performance Sustaining the best possible fluid balance is important for many reasons, including sustaining heart stroke volume, sustaining sweat rates, enabling delivery of nutrients to working cells and enhancing removal of metabolic waste products from cells.
  9. Recovery from Exercise is Just as Important as the Exercise Putting stress on muscles through exercise isn’t enough to reap the full health benefits. You must give muscles an opportunity to recover from the stress so that they can benefit from the exercise. Adequate sleep is important by helping to sustain appropriate eating behaviors and muscle recovery.
  10. It Is Important to Learn How to Lower Stress Stress levels impact eating behavior. High stress levels can lead to the consumption of energy-dense foods that are high in fat and sugar. Find a strategy for stress-reduction that can help you sustain optimal nutrition, which will positively influence both performance and health.

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How Does Exercise Actually Make You Better?

By Dev Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • A recently published scientific study shows that blood protein markers fall into specific patterns, and some patterns are associated with regular aerobic exercise
  • The patterns in regular exercisers are different than the patterns found in non-exercisers
  • Studies such as this shed further light into exactly how exercise improves health status and ultimately may lead to improved exercise prescriptions for individuals

I’m sure pretty much everyone knows that exercise is a good thing and makes us fitter and better. The right kind of exercise will make you feel better, look better, and likely add to your healthspan. But the exact mechanisms that lead from exercise to better health are surprisingly hard to pinpoint.

recently published scientific study shows that certain groups of proteins in the body are present in larger quantities in people who exercise regularly, suggesting that the proteins are somehow responsible for actions leading to improved health status. This study did now investigate cause and effect, but it sheds light on a previously poorly understood area. The field of “proteomics”- the study of body proteins and their functions- may lead to exciting discoveries in exercise science.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder performed the study. The first study group was comprised of 31 healthy young men and women, about half of whom exercised regularly, while the rest did not. They also recruited an additional group of 16 healthy middle-aged and older men, half of whom were physically active and half of whom were sedentary. So this study was a snapshot in time comparison of people who performed regular aerobic exercise vs. those who were physically inactive.

They collected blood samples from the study participants and analyzed for more than 1000 blood proteins. From the analysis they were able to find 10 groups of proteins that they arranged into patterns or modules.

The researchers were able to find 5 specific protein patterns associated with aerobic exercise status in adults, as well as 2 modules that were preserved with aging in regularly exercising men. In the groups of regular exercisers patterns were related to biological pathways involved in wound healing, regulation of cell aging, glucose and insulin response, and inflammation/immune responses. Several of the exercise-related protein patterns were associated with physiological and clinical indicators of healthspan, including diastolic blood pressure, insulin resistance, VO2max, blood vessel function.Logo

This is a unique study that allows us to start digging deeper into the specific processes that take place during exercise and ultimately improve health status. Future studies will need to take a look at cause and effect. How do the protein markers change when taking a sedentary person through a regular exercise program? How do the proteins change from various different types of exercise? Ultimately research studies such as this can lead to improved exercise regimens and personalization of an exercise prescription.

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