by David R. Asp Ed.D.
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia showcase the best athletes from around the world. As you watch these athletes perform on one of the biggest sports stages in the world, do you ever wonder how they began their quests for Olympic gold?
For some, it might have been just being exposed to a sport at an early age. Take for example, Stillwater Minnesota native Jessie Diggins. The 22 year-old is a member of the U.S. Ski Team and will compete in Nordic Skiing at this years Winter Olympics. A World Cup gold medalist, she first learned to ski the open trails with her family at age four. Her passion and dedication for cross country skiing bloomed from there. Last year, Diggins came to speak at the Red Wing Nordic team dinner and talked about the importance of having fun and enjoying the journey, because things don’t always go as we planned.
While not every child-or even adult-has the talent and skills to become a competitor in a sport, everyone can reap benefits or aerobic exercise by participating in an activity. Some of those benefits may include:
*Reduced health risks. Getting your heart rate up regularly strengthens your heart and by moving your body it can help ward off negative chronic conditions.
*Enhanced mental focus. Research shows that people who exercise—even for short periods—improve their concentration level and perform better on tests and tasks at work.
*The ability to better manage stress. A little exercise can go a long way in tackling daily stress. Your spirits and worries are lifted when you regularly move your body. Exercise naturally combats depression, stress and anxiety. Studies indicate that regular exercise can be as effective as an anti-depressant in many depressions.
*Weight control. Exercise helps you achieve a healthy weight and keeps excess pounds at bay by boosting your metabolism.
Even during the cold winter months it is possible to enjoy outdoor activities and the beauty of winter. Dress in layers and make sure areas of your skin are not exposed to frigid temperatures. Putting Vaseline on your face and using hand or toe warmers can also help. Once you are moving, it’s amazing how your body generates its own heat!
Throughout the Olympiad Games, I challenge you to find a winter activity that speaks to you. If you have not had a clearance from your doctor for activity it is important to check with your provider before engaging in any strenuous activity. Lace up your ice skates and head to a local ice rink. Or rent some skis/poles and hit the slopes. Discover the beauty of the forest and back country while hiking, cross country skiing or snowshoeing. What is important is to find an outdoor winter activity that you and your family can enjoy together for fun and you’ll be rewarded with your own gold medal of good health.