Here's how ice skating improves your physical and mental health
Kahlen Cheung Cheuk-ka shares her experience since picking up the sport at 2 years old.
Figure skater Kahlen Cheung Cheuk-ka is performing graceful laps of a city ice rink, occasionally adding gravity-defying spins and twirls to her routine.
Cheung, 16, makes it look easy, but skating provides an intense workout that benefits both her mind and body.
“I head to the rink about five days a week and feel exhausted after a workout,” says Cheung, taking time out from a training session at the Mega Ice rink at the MegaBox shopping mall in the city’s Kowloon Bay neighbourhood.
“You’re in continuous motion so your leg muscles [calves, quads, and hamstrings] become really powerful. Your core is constantly engaged, so your abs are being worked, and all the while trying to look as graceful as a ballerina,” she says. “But at the same time you don’t want your upper body to get too bulky.”
According to Harvard Medical School research, ice skating can burn up to 200 calories per hour, making it a great way to lose or maintain weight when combined with a healthy diet.
“I don’t follow a strict diet, but I watch what I eat and make sure I take in enough protein to help with recovery. I monitor my carb intake and always make sure I stay hydrated,” says Cheung, who says stretching and weight training are also part of her fitness schedule.
Steiner writes that as well as a good cardiovascular workout, ice skating is a great way to relax and relieve stress. Moves such as spinning and gliding backwards help with focus.
“While you make your way around the rink, it’s a great time to clear your mind or enjoy the time with family and friends. As your physical agility improves, your mental agility also benefits as you concentrate, react to the changing environment and build self-confidence,” Steiner wrote in a blog for the New England Baptist Hospital.
Boosting mental strength is something Cheung can relate to. “I’ve been skating for so long that it’s become second nature. I often get lost in my [own] head space,” she says, adding it has also helped boost her confidence.
Cheung, who wants to become a physiotherapist, took up ice skating when she was just two years old, encouraged by her mother who loved the activity but never had a chance to pursue it herself.
“When I got to nine years old, I was progressing quite well, so I started taking it more seriously,” she says. “I would watch older skaters doing spins and wanted to be like them.” This season, she took part in junior grand prix events in France and Poland.
Last year, the teen was crowned overall champion in the Elite Junior Ladies (under-18) event in Hong Kong.
Cheung has lofty ambitions, but says Hong Kong doesn’t have an Olympic-sized rink which is frustrating. She says the overseas competition is tough, especially the girls from Russia who are peaking at aged 13 or 14 before their bodies have fully developed, making them more agile.
Anyone who has watched figure skating at the highest level (it was the first winter sport to be included in the Olympic Games) can’t help but be dazzled, not just by the sparkly outfits but the body-twisting moves.
And there are a lot of them, some are named after athletes such as the “Salchow” ” a jump created by Sweden’s Ulrich Salchow; the “Axel”, a difficult jump invented in 1882 by Norway’s Axel Paulsen; and the “Lutz”, named after Austrian athlete Alois Lutz in the 1930s. Other moves have more light-hearted names such as the “cannonball”, “doughnut” and “pancake spin”, to the rather ominous sounding “death drop”.
Cheung says the hardest move she has executed is a triple Lutz jump involving two-and-a-half spins.
There is also the social factor of ice skating, a time to have fun with family and friends.
“I’m an only child so my skating friends are like siblings,” Cheung says.
“I can rely on them and other skaters, we all understand what we go through. If I’ve had a bad day at school then I come here and everything’s fine.”
Cheung’s strong connection with ice skating is one felt by many Hongkongers whose childhoods involved regular visits to the ice rink. “Coming to the rink is relaxing ” it’s kind of my safe haven,” says Cheung.
Graphic designer Dennis Yip knows that feeling. As a teenager in the eighties, Yip hung out with friends at an ice rink in a mall in Tsuen Wan.
“We would head to the rink after school and on weekends,” says the now 44-year-old. “The rink was my safe space ” I was too scared to go into the game arcades, and roller skating, well that was for rebels. I was a nerd, so ice skating was my thing.”
It’s a Saturday afternoon and the rink at Cityplaza Ice Palace in Taikoo Shing is buzzing with kids gliding and twirling their way across the ice. Watching the scene is Mei Ho, who regularly brings her six-year-old daughter to the rink, continuing a family tradition.
“It’s quite nostalgic for me because my mum took me ice skating when I was young,” she says. “But I think it’s more important today because there’s so much temptation for kids to just want to play on computers, so I bring my daughter here as a fun way to socialise and stay active.”
Where to find cool relief: five ice skating rinks in Hong Kong
Cityplaza Ice Palace, 1/F, Cityplaza, 18 Taikoo Shing Road, Taikoo Shing
Mega Ice at MegaBox, Unit 1, Level 10, MegaBox, 38 Wang Chiu Road, Kowloon Bay
The Rink at Elements, G/F, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon
Sky Rink at Dragon Centre, 8/F, Dragon Centre, 37K Yen Chow Street, Sham Shui Po
Festival Walk Glacier, UG, Festival Walk, 80 Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.