"If you just go round and round, on a glide, at a very, very slow speed, it's like a very, very slow walk, at about 25 minutes to the mile. If you're skating a little faster, at a nice, conversational, organ-music pace, it's like a 15- or 20-minute mile; in 45 minutes, you've done the equivalent of two or three miles," says Dr. Smith.
If you go faster, you work harder; if you can't go fast, you can increase the workload by moving your arms as well as your legs, according to Goldsborough, the instructor at Northwest. "I do a lot of work with arm-swinging," she says.
Your calorie burn is also variable, depending on such factors as your weight and your metabolism, and the intensity and duration of the activity. Heavier people, for example, use up more fuel per minute than lightweights.
On average, walkers use about four calories per minute, according to Lew Lyon, director of health and fitness promotion at Mercy Medical Center. Ice skaters might use a few less calories because they're fighting less friction on ice than on land. Or, he points out, they might burn a little more because the body-on-ice needs more fuel to keep warm. If you're a beginner, and a klutz to boot, you probably use up some extra calories just from flailing around, he says.
But first, a word of caution
BEFORE beginning any new sport, people over 35 and those with chronic health problems should check with their physicians. Although ice skating is a low-impact activity, which means it is easier on your joints than running, there are some hazards to be aware of.
Primary among them is the possibility of thin ice on ponds or lakes; it's safer to skate at supervised rinks.
But rink-skating isn't entirely risk free either, warns Dr. Angela Smith, pediatric orthopedist and sports medicine specialist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Cleveland.
"The biggest danger in overcrowded public sessions with young men who have had too many beers is getting knocked down and having someone else skate over your hand or arm," she says. "The figure skate blade can cut a tendon."
You could also fall on your outstretched hands and break a wrist, she says.
Dr. Lew Schon, orthopedic surgeon in the Foot and Ankle Center at Union Memorial Hospital, has seen some broken ankles in beginning skaters too. "You need good instruction, from
someone who knows how," he says.
In addition, you need skates that fit properly. Whether you're buying skates or renting them, Schon says, be sure they're comfortable off the ice; they're not going to feel any better when you start to skate. And, he says, check the insides of the skates, by hand, to be sure there aren't any defects or irregularities that will irritate your feet.