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The health benefits of curling

The Winter Olympics are here, and one of the most watched sports during the 16-day event is curling.  

Curling was invented in Scotland more than 500 years ago. It involves two teams of four players who take turns sliding heavy, polished granite stones (rocks) across a sheet of ice toward a circular target called the house. Two of the team members help direct the rock's trajectory toward the house by vigorously sweeping the ice in front of it. The goal is to score more points than the other team by placing your team's rocks in the house closest to the center.  

The first winter Olympics in 1924 included curling, but the sport disappeared and reappeared a few times as a demonstration sport until 1998, when it returned as a medal sport. Since its reintroduction, participation rates in curling have skyrocketed. The number of countries represented in the World Curling Federation has increased from 28 in 1998 to 60 in 2017, and more than 2 million players now curl worldwide.  

Part of the attraction of curling is that it looks easy and less taxing compared to downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating and other winter sports. But the truth is you can get a good workout while curling. 

  • Curling requires balance—if you've ever walked on ice, you understand that balance is a necessary skill. By maintaining your balance, you increase your core strength, flexibility and coordination.
  • Curling is aerobic—first, you are working out in the cold, which means you burn more calories. Second, you can put on about 2 miles walking up and down the ice during the game. Plus the sweeping motion involved in directing the rock increases heart rate and improves your cardiovascular system. Research has shown that curling can reduce blood pressure.
  • Curling strengthens your legs—as you maintain your balance on the slippery curling sheet, you tone your calves, thighs and buttocks. Plus the player who throws the rock does so from an elongated lunge, which requires strong leg and glute muscles.
  • Curling strengthens your upper body—sliding a 40-lb. rock and vigorous sweeping can help tone your arms and shoulders.

Curling also provides mental stimulation. It is a highly strategic sport, often compared to chess, and requires planning, strategizing and team work. In addition, curling is a very social sport. Teams must work together and communicate well. It is also inclusive; men and women and children of all ages and all abilities can participate. Many curling clubs offer adaptive equipment that allow disabled players to play.  

Minnesota is home to nearly 30 curling clubs, most of which offer introductory classes that let you learn more and try the sport.  So shut off the television after the gold medal ceremony for curling and call your local curling club to get started today.

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