woman in snow holding ice skates

Do you find yourself gaining weight during the long, cold winter months? Is it difficult to stay motivated to exercise, particularly when there's frost on the ground?

If that lonely treadmill or even the corner gym is failing to get you up and out of your easy chair, it may be time to try a new form of exercise this winter. How about something that not only gets your heart beating faster, but improves balance, physical fitness, and coordination, and is so much fun to do you'll forget you're working out?

Ice Skating is a Great Workout
You may have followed the figure skating competition during the Olympics, or enjoyed watching your local youth hockey team square off against a rival, but skate yourself? That's something you can't learn as an adult, right?

Tell that to the Wasatch Figure Skating club, who pride themselves on their senior citizen members, or the McFetridge Sports Center in Chicago, which has a regular senior citizen's open skate. Anyone can learn to ice skate at any age, and during the winter time, the sport offers a fun, social, and regenerating workout that burns about 450 calories per hour when you're skating at average speed.

Health Benefits of Ice Skating
In addition to burning calories, what are the other health benefits of ice-skating? It's great for your heart, for one thing. The aerobic workout gets your heart pumping and improves circulation, helping you to feel more alert and energetic. If you keep at it, you may be able to lose weight, if you combine your skating with a healthy diet. Ice-skating also tones your muscles as you learn to engage your abdominals, thighs, and calves to maintain your balance. The more you skate, the more flexible you'll become, and you'll gain strength and endurance. Finally, skating improves mental fitness, challenging your mind to learn something completely new, increasing your self-confidence and helping you to exercise mental control.

Before You Get Started
As with any exercise program, it's best to check with your doctor before starting to ice skate, to be sure you're in good enough health to take on the challenge. Next, dress warmly, but in layers so you can shed some things as you start to warm up. Leggings, leotards, and fitted tops allow freedom of motion and stretch. Wear gloves, not only for warmth, but to protect your hands should you fall.

If you're nervous about potential injuries, consider hip, knee, elbow and wrist pads or guards, as well as a helmet. Particularly if you're not sure about your balancing skills, these precautions may help you avoid getting hurt and ensure you'll be able to keep skating even after a fall.

Buy or Rent Your Skates?
Your best bet may be to rent first, unless you can get the good advice of a reputable instructor as to which ice skates may be best for you. If you rent a few times, you'll learn what you like and don't like, and will have more experience and knowledge on which to base a purchasing decision. Whatever you decide, be sure your skates fit well. Skate sizes don't always match shoe sizes. Make sure your heel is snug against the back of the skate, and that you can wiggle your toes up and down. Finally, wear microfiber--not cotton--socks, as they absorb moisture and fit well on your feet, reducing the risk of blisters.

Get Skating!
Once you've got your basic apparel, you're ready to go skating. You can choose a public skate time at your local rink and just try it out on your own, or invest in some group or private lessons. Most likely as you learn you will fall a few times, so the important thing is to learn how to fall to minimize your risk of injury. Tuck your hands in close so other skaters won't run over your fingers, try to relax so you don't fall stiffly, and protect your wrists, elbows, hips and knees. If you can, fall on your backside, as that's the least likely to get injured.

Finally, practice stopping as soon as you can, as this will be your most important skill. You can either use the T-stop, where you drag one skate behind the other at a 45-degree angle, or the snowplow stop, where you push the skates apart and form a pigeon-toed position, using the inside of the blades to shave the ice and slow your momentum. Try not to become discouraged and remember you're learning something entirely new, so be patient with yourself and enjoy the journey. Before long you may find yourself dreading the summer months because skating outside is so much fun!