By Sean Zucker –
Vandals, punks, hooligans – skateboarders have been called many things. Rarely have health gurus been one of them. Despite this, those kids marking up the local sidewalks and benches are onto something – even if they may not be aware of it. Evidence is growing that this property-trashing activity provides plenty of health benefits for the body and mind. It may even help to save the planet.
As anyone who’s ever ridden a skateboard can attest, kicking the ply is a killer workout. But the claim is not just a feeling from riders, it’s backed by science. Michele Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Auburn University in Alabama, defines skateboarding as a rigorous cardio workout. She goes as far as to compare the fitness benefits of jumping rope and spinning in terms of alternating between paced and explosive movements. Due to its full-body involvement, the health benefits of skateboarding are perfect for increasing flexibility and coordination.
“Casual riding alone can accelerate your cardiovascular system and burn between eight and 12 calories per minute”, Olson adds. “It’s also a fantastic core workout because the need to keep your body balanced on the board is tied directly to your abs working with your back to keep your spine aligned. The practice is central in developing key muscles like hamstrings, glutes and quads – all of which are amplified when tricks are involved”, she continued.
Skateboarding’s benefits don’t end with the body. It can even build mental strength. According to Carol Dweck, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset, skateboarding provides a growth mindset by teaching riders that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort and persistence. A study published in Pediatrics magazine even found young skateboarders to have significantly higher self-esteem than their non-skater peers. This heightened confidence seems to be bred from the positive and communal nature of the sport, which encourages interacting with and support of skateboarding peers, says Joel Pippus, Counselor at Hull Services. Using the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, Hull even has produced pioneering research demonstrating how skateboarding helps children heal from trauma.
Filmmaker Bing Lui explored this dynamic further with Minding the Gap, a documentary centered on three young men escaping their volatile family lives through their skateboarding bond. The Academy Award-nominated film chronicles 12 years of footage showing the positive community outlet skateboarding offered these three boys while they dealt with various devastating events centered on racial tension and domestic violence.
The planet also seems to come out as a winner. Similar to biking, skateboarding is an excellent way for adult commuters to cut back on their carbon footprint. Better yet, skateboards are easier to use, simpler to store and harder to steal than bikes given their compact size and ability to maneuver around crowded city streets. Portland, Oregon, quite possibly the most eco-friendly city in the U.S., has already formally recognized skateboarding’s wide-ranging benefits by establishing skate lanes on many of its streets.
Its large-scale ecological validity is starting to gain attention. A 2013 study by the International Journal of Justice and Sustainability focused on the environmental effect skateboarders have in Chicago. It found they help develop underseen or underutilized urban areas because they frequently explore different terrains to practice in. The journal refers to skateboarding as a new alternative form of sustainability, focusing on the scene in both sanctioned parks and makeshift skate spots, highlighting the intersection of skateboarding and Chicago’s sustainability agenda.
Just north over the border, Canadian skateboard company Landyachtz has taken the sustainability connection beyond skateboarding’s inherent green benefits by promising to plant a tree for every board they sell.
Skateboarding may not be for everyone, everywhere. But if you’re looking for an effective and fun new way to kill calories, build your mind and save the planet? Kick, push and coast.