Study confirms skiing benefits mental health

17th September 2021, by Abi Butcher

Researchers studied skiers in the world's largest cross-country ski race. Pic: Salomon

Researchers studied skiers in the world's largest cross-country ski race. Pic: Salomon

Skiing is good for our mental health — something we’ve long known at Where to Ski and Snowboard has now been confirmed by research published in the journal Frontiers of Psychiatry.

Skiers have a 60 per cent lower risk of developing anxiety disorders compared to people who don’t ski, according to researchers at Lund University in Sweden who last week published the largest ever population-based study to confirm a long-term association with a physically active lifestyle and the development of anxiety.

The researchers compared 197,685 people who took part in Vasaloppet, the world’s largest long-distance ski race, between 1989 and 2010, comparing them to the same number of non-skiing adults. The race is 56 miles (90km) long, so all competitors were relatively healthy — eating better, smoking less, exercising more than non-skiers, all of which resulted in a lower mortality rate.

A decade after they participated in the race, of the total number of skiers just 1,649 were diagnosed with anxiety disorders, regardless of age, sex and level of education — 60 per cent fewer than the number of non-skiers who were diagnosed with anxiety.

However, although the length of time it took a skiers to finish the race had no impact on the risk of a man developing anxiety, the high-performing female skiers were at double the risk of developing anxiety compared to the women who took the race at a more leisurely pace.

“The total risk of getting anxiety among these high-performing women was still lower compared to the more physically inactive women in the general population,” said co-author Martina Svensson, an associate researcher in the Experimental Neuroinflammation Laboratory at Lund University in Sweden. “It seems like both sexes benefit from being physically active, even though the optimal level may differ between men and women. Factors behind these differences have to be further studied.”

Researchers said their study offers “new knowledge about how a physically active lifestyle might affect the development of anxiety disorders in both men and women”, citing links with better cardiovascular fitness, the ability of physical activity to preoccupy the mind and offer distraction from anxious thoughts and that people with higher levels of cardiovascular fitness have a lower cortisol response when subjected to stress.

To read the complete results of the study, visit

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