Skiing and Snowboarding My Cure for the Winter Blues

Snowboarder In AirI have been enjoying getting on the snowy slopes of the Adirondacks and the surrounding NorthEast mountains since I was a young boy. Not only is it something to do during our long cold Winter months but it has developed into a core passion of mine. Make no mistake that if I relocated to a warmer climate I would be compelled to travel frequently to get on the snow I need.

It is funny how when you do something for so many years how it becomes ingrained into the fabric of who you are. I mean that so much in the what makes you tick kind of way. There is irony in the way that I was introduced to skiing was as an after school activity when I was in 7th grade. From those days filled with classmates and painfully poor technique I feel as though I’ve certainly come a long way. Both in the realm of athletic skills as well in managing the fears and emotions that come pouring through such a challenging activity that you can take all over the world to cultivate some of the best experiences and memories possible.

Snowboarding is such a large part of my life that I can easily equate my growth and experience on the mountains throughout my life to my personal growth. You may think that sounds like a stretch but I compare my mindset and all the emotions I was experiencing on those early days to where I am today as a person and what I bring to Mountain adventures today.

Think of it like this; the earliest skiing I did I was filled with apprehension and doubt about what each new mountain / trail / day would bring. Poking my head over the edge of a “Blue Square” rated trail to see if it was something I could handle. Then the elation and burgeoning confidence that would follow upon completion of that trail let alone the anticipation of the next slightly more challenging trail experience that I would undergo. My mindset shifted from one of ok I think I am ready for the next adventure to Oh My God get my ass out on the mountain ASAP. That transition took some time to develop but by the time I was a senior in high school skiing was one of my strongest passions.

This growth and depth of skill and understanding continued to accumulate throughout my college years. Once I began my professional career I took my passion for the mountains, which by this point had transitioned from snowboarding to skiing, and brought it with me. When I talk about bringing it with me I mean that I have taught over 30 people to snowboard throughout my life including many friends, coworkers and acquaintances. I have managed to snowboard on 4 continents and enjoy those kinda experiences with people from all walks of life.

Many would say you could equate what I am saying to any sport or activity, however, I feel that the fact that this is a winter sport that compels you to scoff at bad weather and travel to the most difficult of access routes and to head to them in the worst of climate conditions that we encounter. Therefore even skating, hockey, snowmobiling and other winter outdoor activities are not quite on the same plateau. Particularly when you consider that at some of the worst weather of the year you are pushing yourself to get to the top of the mountain and when possible climb higher than any lift service available so that you can poach 100s of vertical feet of fresh untracked powder. So where there are similarities there are also differences. The mountains can be challenging enough to embrace and conquer but don’t discount the flying into small airports in bad climates or taking a 4 hour drive and turning it into an 8 hour white knuckle experience.

Being one that believes in the basic tenets of Buddhism, at least form a psychological and philosophical perspective, I also find that snowboarding and skiing can lead to a grounding zen experience bonding a person to nature and their inner self. When you are on a mountain and through all of the BS of getting there, buying a ticket, queueing up to get on the lift etc… All the troubles, responsibilities and intrepidations of daily life melt away and you become ensconced into the present. Whether you practice attaining this state or just enjoy stumbling upon it the reward in general happiness cannot be dismissed.

As I ramble through this discourse my point is this I am personally one of the happiest people I know in the Winter time and that is shared by a number of the people that I know who feel the same as I about skiing and snowboarding. On the flip side of this I know many people that do nothing but incessantly complain about the long dark winter days and that they haven’t been out of the house in a week. There are cures for the negativity and general malaise that pours from these people but they have to act to alleviate it. Maybe they’ve made being miserable and grouchy during the Winter into the fabric of who they are. My point is this find a passion in the Winter that keeps you enthusiastic and happy while you make it through to the warmer months.

Getting Essential Vitamin D in Winter Time



Man Tanning
Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, and its essential to maintaining optimal health and a robust immune system. The main source of this critical nutrient is the sun. During hard Northeastern winters, it can be almost impossible to get all the vitamin D we need. Now I am not saying you need to dress for your next mountain adventure quite as risque as the woman in the image but…

Researchers have found that having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to a broad range of (sometimes severe) health problems and also contribute to chronic disorders, which include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension

If you want to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D, especially if you’re living through a brutal Northeast Winter, or any snowy climate, keep reading to learn about the different ways you can get the vitamin D you need.

The Dangers of Vitamin D Deficiency

According to the journal Nutrition Research, approximately 42 percent of US adults are vitamin D deficient. That’s bad news for health. A variety of health risks are associated with Vitamin D deficiency. Worse, if you’re diagnosed with a serious health issue like breast or prostate cancer, the chances of survival could be much lower than for someone who has normal levels.

According to study author, Kimberly Y.Z. Forrest, there are specific factors which increase your risk of being vitamin D deficient, “Being from a non-white race, not college educated, obese, having low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, poor health, and no daily milk consumption were all significantly, independently associated with vitamin D deficiency.”

Too Little Vitamin D Can Make You S.A.D

Vitamin D deficiency can significantly increase the chances of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also called winter depression.

This is a mental condition which can cause people to experience a depressed mood during the winter season. SAD is still a mystery to many healthcare professionals, and there are different schools of thought regarding its cause, but most will agree that it could be at least partly related to a combination of light sensitivity, brain chemistry, and Vitamin D deficiency.

The symptoms of SAD can appear like those of major depressive disorder and may include:

  • Decreased energy
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased desire for sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Carbohydrate cravings
  • Irritability
  • Weight gain

A reason why Vitamin D deficiency could cause SAD is that it naturally boosts serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for processes like digestion, mood, sleep, and hunger. When humans experience a drop in serotonin levels, our mood drops, and we may experience cravings as a way to increase those levels. Carbs, as well as nicotine or caffeine, will briefly increase serotonin levels to improve our mood temporarily. Unfortunately, we eventually get desensitized to all this excess serotonin, which can cause cravings to intensify.
Besides excess abdominal fat, other signs of Vitamin D deficiency may include depression, persistent musculoskeletal pain, frequent chest colds, inflammatory diseases, and even some autoimmune diseases.

How Does the Body get vitamin D from the Sun?

The body synthesizes large amounts of cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) when skin is exposed to sunlight. The minimum time needed to make vitamin D depends on the skin color of each person. Individuals with very light skin may need only 10 minutes in the sun to stimulate the body to produce vitamin D. Those with very dark skin could require up to 30 minutes or longer to make a significant amount of vitamin D.

But, on average a person will need about 15-20 minutes of sun on face arms and legs about three times a week for the body to produce enough vitamin D. Of course, the more skin that’s exposed, the more vitamin D you’ll make. You don’t need to risk sunburn or even get a tan to get the vitamin D you need.

A crucial factor that affects the amount of vitamin D you make is the time of day. The optimum time of day to be in the sun for the skin to make the most vitamin D is about noon when the sun’s rays strike the ground most directly.

Does Summertime Vitamin D Last through the Winter?

Yes, it’s possible for the vitamin D your body makes from sun exposure to meet most of your needs all winter long. But, possibly doesn’t mean it will.

For this to help you, you need first to get enough vitamin D during the warm weather months. Unfortunately, many of us just can’t. Most Americans are vitamin D deficient even in the summer months for a variety of reasons:

  • Working all day at indoor jobs
  • Slathering on extremely high SPF sunscreen anytime they go out
  • Actively avoiding the sun from fear of skin damage

So, the majority of us get nowhere near the amount of vitamin D we need in the summer, and yet we depend on this hypothetical vitamin D surplus to keep us healthy all winter.


If you live around the northern circle of latitude that’s 37 degrees above of Earth’s equator, the sun’s rays just don’t hit your location at the optimal angle to get vitamin D producing rays on your skin during fall and winter, making vitamin D production from the sun impossible. Visualize a line across the US from Northern California to Pennsylvania; anyone living over this line had better look for alternative sources of Vitamin D from November through March.

The bottom line is: If you’re well-tanned from the sun at the beginning of winter from lots of daily sun exposure over the summer, then you may indeed have enough vitamin D stored to make it through to spring. If not, then its likely that you’ll need to find another way.

If You Think You’re Vitamin D Deficient, Consider Getting Tested

If you suspect that you’re vitamin D deficient, consider having your blood levels checked by your doctor. Recent studies indicate that it’s best to maintain your vitamin D levels above 30 nanograms/milliliter. Someone who has levels below this amount may need to consume a higher dose vitamin supplement but only do so on the advice of your doctor.

Now That You Know Here is How to Eliminate it or Avoid It Altogether

Although it sounds challenging to be able to do it’s not that hard. The key is to get outside during the winter and allow some sunlight on your skin. This doesn’t mean that you have to join a polar bear club and go skinny dipping in a frozen lake every Winter. What it does mean is that you should take advantage of that Sunny Winter day and take your hat and hood off if it’s warm enough and let that sunshine in. Having a Winter sport that you are passionate about really helps.
Even Indoor tanning is better than nothing and will produce Vitamin D for you.

Ways to Get Vitamin D without the Sun

Eat healthy, vitamin D rich foods like these every day:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Cheese

Other good sources are, vitamin D fortified milk, yogurt, and vitamin-fortified orange juice.

Of course, the quickest and easiest way is to take a vitamin D supplement year-round. It’s best to ask a doctor regarding the most effective amount to take. Although, for people with healthy vitamin D levels, 1,000 to 2,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D every day will help maintain optimal levels.

Use your newfound awareness of Vitamin D and how your body creates and uses it to help you feel healthy and happy this Winter.

Swiss Ball Dumbbell Chest Press

Swiss Ball Dumbbell Chest Press


Type:
Strength and Conditioning
Repetitions:
3-5 Sets of 8-15 Repetitions
Rest Period:
30 seconds
Main muscles worked:
Pectorals and Core


Doing strength exercises on a swiss ball is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Not only are you getting the strength or muscle growth that you are looking for with your exercise but you are using your core and all the supporting muscles to your primary muscle group, to support the weights while performing the exercise. Much like using a machine isolates the specific muscle you are trying to work while exercising, doing them in an unstable environment, like on a swiss ball, means that the primary muscle groups supporting muscles have to kick in to help.

For a chest press this means that while you are primarily trying to work the pecs, when you do them on a swiss ball your relying much more heavily on your core (abdominal and back muscles) as well as the tricep, front and rear deltoids to support your chest in completing the repetitions. It’s kinda like a bonus workout in that your working much more than just the pecs and in turn will see the strength and toning gains in all of the muscle groups. This is a great way to hit the smaller oft neglected muscles.

There is only one downside to doing exercises like this and that is you need to work on doing them with excellent form to recognize the benefit. If you do these exercises sloppily you will likely not get the gains in the primary muscle group as the supporting muscles do more of the work. In turn you likely should do these exercises at a lighter weight than your normal dubmbell press

Before starting this routine it is a good idea to do some stretchin on the swiss ball to loosen your core and shoulders up

    Routine:

    1. Start by lying back on the ball like you are on a bench with the dumbbells in the position shown in the image above
    2. Ensure that you are in a stable spot with your legs and core supporting you with ease
    3. Proceed to press the dumbbells up to full arm extension
    4. Do a consciously slow negative to take advantage of the instability of the swiss ball
    5. Repeat the motion until you complete your repetition count

    If you struggle with retaining your balance while doing this exercise start with lower weight dumbbells

Box Jumps

Box Jumps


Also known as:
Plyometrics Box Jump

Type:
Strength and Conditioning
Repetitions:
12-24, Count is pretty flexible if more tone and balance focused do greater reps and less sets
Rest Period:
30-45 seconds

Main muscles worked:
Hamstrings, Quadriceps and Glutes
Description

This exercise is a great one for burning off fat while strengthening and toning your body. Not only will it work the designated muscle groups but also is excellent for strengthening your core as you need to strongly engage your core to propel the jump.

Plyometrics is essentially jump training in which muscles exert maximum force in a very short period of time with the goal of increasing speed and power. The essense of doing a plyometric move is to combine jumping exercises in as short of a time window as possible.

  1. Begin in a comfortable resting position on the floor with the item to be jumped onto squarerly in front of you
  2. Bend your knees in preperation of jumping bring your arms behind you
  3. Initiate the jump using your entire body including arm swing to assist in lift and balance
  4. Land with your feet on the edge of the platform
  5. Bend your knees and bring your arms in front of you in anticipation of the jump backwards to where you started from
  6. Repeat the process as quickly as you feel comfortable maintaing a safe balance and jump location

These exercises will also get your heart rate pumping at a high clip. Ensure that your rest period allows you to properly catch your breath before tackling the next set.

Balance Ball Squats

Balance Ball Core Exercise Routine

Woman Doing Balance Ball Squats
Also known as:
Balance Ball Squats

Type:
Strength, Tone and Balance
Repetitions:
12-24, Count is pretty flexible if more tone and balance focused do greater reps and less sets
Rest Period:
30-45 seconds

Main muscles worked:
Core muscle groups, squats of course are also providing leg workouts as well but core is emphasized
Description

This half balance ball exercise routine is excellent at strengthening your core muscles, improving balance and hip flexor range of motion. It’s important to recognize that your working on a moving surface and will have to counter the balls movement with your body in order to maintain the desired position. These small movements trigger and activate the core in ways that everyday movements do not and therin lies the advantage of this workout.

  1. Begin in a semi-squat position that you find easy to maintain balance in
  2. Keep your arms outstretched to aid in balancing
  3. Gradually lower yourself into a parallel squat position while maintaining balance
  4. Gradually come out of the squat maintaining balance
  5. Repeat to complete desired rep count

As these are a no weight exercise do set counts that ensure you are feeling them. If you are struggling to recognize this think about it the day after and see if you can detect the engagement in your core.

Woman Doing Balance Ball Jump Squats

Additionally Balance Ball Jumps as shown in this image are also excellent use of the balance ball for core and leg strengthening.