As winter is upon us, we hide away in the warmth of our homes, avoiding the cold dark days outside. Harsh temperatures and a ground covered in snow and ice prevent us from most outdoor sports activities.

One of the most versatile winter sports is ice-skating. There is a definite love of skating by people all over the world… it’s like many things we all share unknowingly and yet can come together without thinking about it.

A family skates across Mendenhall Lake in Juneau, Alaska

Ice skating takes many forms, from speed skating to professional hockey to figure skating to sliding around on a pond. Few sports are beneficial for your body on so many levels as this ancient sport that was first practiced in Finland over 4000 years ago. Ice-skating provides excellent cardiovascular workout, comparable to running, as you improve your skating skills. But because you glide over the ice, the impact on your joints is relatively low compared to the relentless pounding your knees, hips and ankles have to endure during a jog.

Skating is also a great way to help you lose those post-holiday pounds. With an hour of recreational skating, you burn between 250 and 850 calories, depending on your pace and weight. To put this in perspective, burning about 3500 calories with physical activity will allow you to lose one pound.

Skating also builds your stamina. Of course, going for longer distances will increase your endurance more than short distances do. Ice-skating primarily works your upper legs, but also your back and abdominal muscles, as you need them to keep your balance and the right posture.

Last but not least, ice-skating is a great way to get away from it all—especially outdoor skating. The fresh air and natural surroundings should leave any troubles you might have well behind you on the ice.

Jenn and Mac have been learning to skate this winter, taking those first few wobbling steps onto the ice with much patience and help from Chris.  They enjoy the time on the indoor arena ice but are willing to venture out on ‘real’ ice once they have their ‘skate legs’ intact – maybe next year.  There’s not much time left for skating this season as spring is at our winter weary door, so go and lace those boots up and enjoy winter’s last hurrah!

People skate on the frozen Sihlsee Lake in the Euthal valley in Switzerland

A referee wears traditional wooden skates during the Frisian Shorttrack Championships in Techendorf, Austria

Canada's Francois-Louis Tremblay competes during the men's 1500 m final B at the ISU World Cup Short Track Speed Skating competition in Moscow

Roby Littlefield gives her dog, Adelee, a sled ride on Swan Lake in Sitka, Alaska

People skate and play ice hockey on the Nosice reservoir on the Vah river in the village of Udica, Slovakia

Ian Coumans, Sasha Stoeffelmayer, Derek Wedge, and Louis-P. Dumoulin skate during a "crashed ice" race in Valkenburg, Netherlands

Four skaters enjoy the first time they can skate on natural ice in Kinderdijk, near Rotterdam. The 19 windmills near Kinderdijk are on the UNESCO world heritage list

Thousands of people skate on the Rideau Canal and take part in Winterlude festivities in Ottawa

A participant in the Frisian Shorttrack Championships wears traditional clothes and wooden skates during the race in Techendorf, Austria. Techendorf hosted the Alternatieve Elfstedentocht Weissensee, a traditional Dutch series of speed skating events for both professionals and amateurs with some 6,000 participants.

Hockey players chase the puck during the New England Pond Hockey Classic hockey tournament on Lake Waukewan in Meredith, N.H.

Children practice their ice hockey skills on the Prinsengracht canal in Amsterdam

Some of the 1100 skaters compete in the 124 mile race in Techendorf, Austria. Techendorf hosted the Alternatieve Elfstedentocht Weissensee (Alternative Eleven City Races Weissensee), a traditional Dutch series of speed skating events.

Michigan and Ohio State play an outdoor college hockey game in Cleveland

A young couple enjoys a cold afternoon ice skating on a frozen pond in Prague