In this week’s installment of “Who approved this research?” a new study found that people who ski regularly are up to 60% less likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. While it's interesting to read about how people who voluntarily slide off the side of mountains are probably less jittery and jaded than me, I’m a little confused about what to do with that information. It’s almost like some of these large-scale, probably expensive studies conducted by white academics just keep telling me the same thing in different ways: Privilege equals happiness.
To be fair, the main conclusion of the study, which was published last week in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, was another totally valid finding about how physical activity is linked to our happiness and wellbeing. People who exercise regularly are more likely to feel less anxious, which is something most of us already knew. What grinds my gears is that the participants represent a rather privileged sector of the world’s population, rendering their results irrelevant to many of us.
It should be noted that skiing is a more mainstream pastime in Sweden, where the study was centered. Researchers studied 197,685 healthy Swedish adults who competed in Vasaloppet, the world’s longest cross-country skiing race. The skiers were tracked for 21 years to see if taking part in the race lowered their anxiety levels. Of course, it did. Everyone who was in the race, except for high-performing women, turned out to have less anxiety than non-skiers.
This makes sense. The study points out that these skiers maintain “higher leisure-time physical activity, smoke less, have a healthier diet, and lower mortality compared to the general Swedish population.” So basically, if you have an exercise routine in place, it can encourage you to live an overall healthier lifestyle. I’m sure it also helps to have access to equipment, a resort, solid health insurance in case you hurt yourself, and a quaint but stately chalet in which to sip hot chocolate after a grueling workout.
You know what else might be making these Swedes less anxious? Everyone in that country gets free healthcare and that they are entitled to at least 25 days of paid vacation every single year — enough to take part in a Vasaloppet (or two).
If we translated this study’s findings to the U.S., they would apply only to people who can afford excellent health insurance, a vacation home, and a great therapist — all things that personally, would make me slightly less anxious. A full 72% of skiers in the U.S. are white (I honestly thought it’d be more) and more than half earn over $100,000, according to the ski magazine Powder.
In all honesty, I’m personally rooting for the chill, skiing Swedes. Not so much, though, for studies that accentuate what I already know about privilege and health outcomes.