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  • Writer's pictureKevin Maloney

Is The Sport Of Curling The Ultimate Activity For Increasing Your Life And Health Span?

Updated: Jan 5


Coyotes Curling Club

You might have a couple of questions after reading that headline. First, what is the sport of curling? Curling is a team sport, played on a 150 foot rectangular sheet of ice, where two teams take turns sliding stones of granite that weigh about 42 lbs down the playing surface toward a target – known as “The House.” Most people are exposed to the sport when they watch it during the winter Olympics. If you are interested in learning more about the sport a great place to go would be: https://worldcurling.org/about/curling/. Second, what exactly is health span? It is typically defined as the part of a person’s life when they are generally in good health. Most people not only want to have a long life span, they also want to be as healthy as possible during that period so they can continue to do the things they enjoy.


How could participating in the sport of curling increase your life and health spans? Let's dive into those aspects.


Community


One aspect of curling is its inclusivity. Curling clubs worldwide are dedicated to providing equal opportunities and access to a diverse demographic. No matter what your athletic ability, the game is adaptable making it accessible to almost anyone. You can find players of all ages, from 6 to over 80 years old, at curling clubs across the globe.


Members of curling clubs often spend a lot of time together forging strong bonds. They often spend a great deal of time teaching and promoting the sport that they love. Many players also travel to clubs outside their immediate area (or players travel to their home club) for tournaments called “bonspiels.” These events help build bonds with fellow players from all over.


Another unique tradition in curling is called “broomstacking.” After the game, the teams put away their brooms and the winning team buys a round of drinks. This post-game gathering is an opportunity to socialize, catch up, and share laughter. As the old saying goes (and science backs it up) “laughter is the best medicine.”


When it comes to your health and life span, building strong social bonds is incredibly important. In the article: Why Social Bonds Are So Important For Our Health, it notes that “Studies have found that loneliness can increase the odds of early death by 26 percent — which is an influence comparable to smoking and greater than that of obesity.” Social bonds strengthen your immune system, helping you ward off various health threats. The article also states that “for every level of increase in social connection, there was a decrease in biomarkers for inflammation, blood pressure, and mortality.” You can find numerous scientific articles on these benefits and more on PubMed.com, highlighting the importance of maintaining strong social connections throughout your life.


Sweeping


One big aspect of the game is sweeping. After each player on the team delivers a stone, two other players on the team follow the stone and are able to “sweep” the ice in front of the rock with a broom. They create heat produced by the friction generated by sweeping which reduces the friction between the stone and pebbled ice surface. This means that sweeping in front of the stone allows it to travel further. Sweeping can also change the path the stone takes, that is, the degree to which it “curls.”


If you’re able to sweep, you can spend anywhere from around 8 seconds to 20 seconds exerting considerable effort, applying downward pressure on the broom and moving it rapidly back and forth in front of the stone. Rapid sweeping is challenging and requires the sweeper not only to be in good condition but also to be able to maneuver effectively on the ice. This type of activity would fall under high-intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise alternated with low intensity recovery periods. You can use your favorite online search engine and find all kinds of benefits for this type of activity. Some of these benefits include decreases in body fat, heart rate, and blood pressure. HIIT may also help lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity.


Personally, this aspect of the game is my favorite, not only because of the health benefits but good sweeping can make the difference between a great shot and a disastrous one.


Balance


Since the game is played on ice, keeping your balance is very important while you are traveling down the sheet and delivering a stone from the ‘hack’. The hacks are the foot-holds at each end of the ice from which the stone is delivered (wheelchair curlers and those that cannot squat into the hacks use a specialized delivery stick). To develop a good balanced delivery, especially while wearing a Teflon slider on one foot, one has to engage all kinds of core stabilizing muscles. By engaging and strengthening these muscles it can make a big difference in your life and health spans. In Dr. Peter Attia’s book “Outlive, The Science and Art of Longevity” he argues strength is important, but stability/balance training should come first. Why? Stability is the secret sauce that allows you to create the most force in the safest manner possible.


There are studies that show that an inability to stand on one leg for 10 seconds in later life is linked to nearly double the risk of death from any cause within the next decade. Balance is so vital to longevity because it helps keep us agile and upright. Falls are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths worldwide, and balance is a protective factor against this.


Mental


The sport of curling has been aptly called “chess on ice.” The comparison is pretty good as in chess, where "reading" the board is crucial, curling is won or lost by the strategy of calls and stone placement. In a study you can read here, researchers wanted to determine the survival advantage of elite athletes, compared to those engaged in mind sports such as chess. The conclusion was “Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports.” The study went on to state that “there is evidence suggesting that playing chess can reduce the risk of dementia, as well as physically alter the structure of the brain” and “when it comes to predicting longevity both fitness of mind and muscle appear to be important.” Since curling blends both the physical and mental elements, one could see how beneficial the sport could be to your health and life spans.


During the game, team communication and the ability to make adjustments quickly are crucial for favorable outcomes. Research has shown that communication is crucial to keep the brain active and reduce the risk of cognitive decline. In an article on Psychology Today, it states that “Continuously challenging your brain with mentally stimulating activities can help maintain and improve cognitive abilities. Engage in activities such as reading, puzzles, learning new skills, playing musical instruments, or engaging in strategic games. These activities engage many brain areas simultaneously and can enhance neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to adapt and form new connections. When it comes to brain health and cognitive abilities, regular use is key to preventing loss.”


Volunteering


Curling clubs are often run fully or partially by volunteers. In the article: Why Volunteering Is One Of The Most Powerful Things You Can Do For Your Health, it notes “Lowered levels of stress hormones have been documented in those who volunteer, versus those who don’t. Social benefits include a new network of friends with shared interests and a sense of purpose. At the same time, volunteers learn new skills.” It goes on to add that “Volunteering has shown to improve mental and physical health in one study of adults over 60. In another study, volunteers reported better physical health and life satisfaction. They perceived volunteering as a catalyst to positive changes in their health.” In addition, “A longitudinal study of aging found those who volunteer their time to have longer life spans. Participants also experienced a decrease in pain from chronic illness.”


Being a volunteer has many aspects that can increase your life and health spans. It can bring meaning and purpose to your life, while increasing your self-esteem and wellbeing. Volunteering can also relieve stress, and alleviate symptoms of depression. Volunteering can improve your personal relationships as well as having a positive impact on your community.


No matter what skill set you possess, there are many opportunities to volunteer at a curling club. Just a few would include building maintenance, ice creation & preparation, league organization, learn to curl events, corporate events, running bonspiels, marketing and communications. Your participation could not only help with the success of your club, but could also benefit your health and personal longevity.


Conclusion


If all these aspects of curling sound appealing to you, why not give it a try? Curling has a rich history tracing back to 16th century Scotland, where the sport was played on frozen ponds and lochs. It continues to grow and evolve for good reasons. If you live in the USA, you can find a club near you here: https://www.usacurling.org/find-a-club. If you live in Canada, you can find a club here: https://www.curling.ca/about-curling/getting-started-in-curling/find-a-curling-centre/. If you reside outside North America, a simple online search should direct you to the closest option.


As is common etiquette in the sport, I wish you all ‘good curling.’ This is how each game begins and ends along with a handshake with your fellow players. Imagine if we carried this spirit of respect into all aspects of our lives. This is the type of world I want to live in and believe would lead to a longer and healthier life for all.

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