After returning home to Colorado from Naturopathic medical school in Seattle, I felt a bit of ambivalence. On the one hand, I was home! On the other, I could no longer enjoy year-round forest running as part of my daily exercise. However, there was sun! But on the other hand, there was snow and ice that could really put you in the hurt locker if you tried to run or bike on that terrain. What’s a young man to do? I had learned many years ago that a daily dose of morning exercise was more than good practice, it was a necessity to keep myself happy. So, while it was great to have sun again, the snowy winters were really cramping my style. As a kid I never minded winter because I enjoyed skiing, however, post-graduate school me – mired in debt and devoting extra time to building my patient base, had to decide that the expensive habit of skiing wasn’t practical in this season of my life.
It occurred to me to try Nordic skiing. I don’t have any Norwegian blood in me that I know of, but perhaps there was some spiritual connection with the country that ignited in me around this time. Doing a little sleuthing, I saw that 2017 was also the year that Karston Warholm, of Norway, first won the 400M Hurdles at the World Athletics championship. Perhaps the inner Viking was awakened. I got hooked on Nordic skiing.
There are several places in Colorado where you can get started with Nordic skiing, and to my delight, the day pass is usually about $30 as is the equipment rental. Compare that to a near $300 lift ticket at other resorts and there wasn’t much arm twisting that needed to happen to get some Nordic skis on my feet. Even better, the tremendous amount of work the sport requires guarantees that you won’t see too many people on the trails like you would at your typical downhill resort. Now that I am a few seasons into the sport, I find myself once again sad when winter goes away, rather than depressed that it has arrived. I am remembering my past kindergarten wisdom: snow is a blessing. Surely the wisdom of nature must agree with this great discovery I made, and who would know better than the elders of naturopathic medicine?
As usual, Henry Lindhlar never fails to enlighten us in his timeless epic, Nature Cure. He instructs us on page 75 of his opus, in most colorful language; “To me it seems a very foolish custom to run away from the invigorating northern winters to the enervating sameness of southern climates. One of the reasons I abandoned, with considerable financial sacrifice, a well-established home in a Texas city which is the Mecca of Health-seekers, was that I did not want to rear my children under the enervating influence of that beautiful climate. For my part, I want some cold winter weather every year to stir up the lazy blood corpuscles, to set the blood bounding throughout the system and to freeze out the microbes.”
In order to unpack that a little, we need to first define “enervating,” and that means to “deprive or drain of vitality” according to Oxford Languages. Next time you are tempted to move away for the Winter, now you know that Henry Lindhlar would be very disappointed in your decision.
To help you avoid incurring the displeasure of the chief apostle of the healing power of nature, I recommend that you take up Nordic (Cross Country) skiing. Make it a point to get up to the mountains at least once a month.
To make my case, I don’t think I need to say anything more than Jessie Diggins. Diggings was the first American Gold medalist in any cross country ski event. But do you require more persuasion? The sport of Nordic skiing has been described by two prominent exercise physiologists Gregory Haff and Travis Triplett as, “the best cardiovascular exercise known.” In their book, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, the authors put cross country skiing ahead of all other forms of exercise, including distance running, snowshoeing, cyling or rowing. I personally knew I was onto something good when, on my first trip up to the mountain to try cross-country skiing, I was shedding layers like a snake, despite it being a very cold day. I have also learned that with a good five minute warm up before braving the cold, my usual tendency to get white frigid fingers goes away, even on the coldest of days.
You might notice on your first day that you spend quite a bit of effort trying to get up from a fallen position. My first day was no different. Even now, just when I think I’m getting it, I find myself in a full, face down, laid out position on the trail. No matter though, there aren’t too many consequences for falling into a pillow of white snow. In contrast to the less forgiving surfaces you skateboarders know all too well. The benefits of the struggle to stay upright while gliding forward far outweighs any negative outcomes as you develop and strengthen the muscles of the posterior chain. In terms of mental health, there is confidence that comes with getting out there– looking out over the scenery, on the beautiful snow-covered vistas, breathing in the fresh mountain air, and best of all, not even cognisant of the cold after the first five minutes of your adventure. Get out there for your physical and mental health!
By: Dr. James Gilchrist | Parker Natural Medicine
Guided by this fundamental philosophy, Parker Natural Medicine provides expertise in both Eastern and Western Natural Healing Modalities. We see patients of all ages and conditions, but specialize in the care of adolescents and those with Auto-immune conditions. Clients of Parker Natural Medicines are treated with the most fundamental natural medicines including healthy food, natural supplements, homeopathy, structural alignment, individualized herbal formulas, acupuncture and movement perscriptions. All of these treatments are modified for seasonal considerations. Dr. Gilchrist is a life-long Coloradoan (and a huge world traveler). He is a graduate of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington.