Alaskan winters are famously brutal. Longtime residents of the Last Frontier know all too well how cold and dark the winter months can be, and the toll this can take on your physical and mental health.
So how do you keep yourself active and healthy when you just want to curl up under the nearest blanket? Here are some ideas for an exercise routine that’s well-suited to Alaskan winters.
Winter in Alaska ranges from cold to bitterly cold. But there’s no reason to call it quits on all outdoor activities until the spring thaw. With a little preparation, there are plenty of physical activities you can do outside during the winter months.
Choosing the Right Clothes
If you’re going to spend any time outside in an Alaska winter, it’s important that you’re dressed for the weather. This is especially true if you plan to exercise outside. When you exercise, you sweat. If you’re not wearing the right clothing, your sweat can quickly freeze and leave you wearing a layer of ice under your clothes.
The key to avoiding this fate is to dress in layers. Your bottom layer should be made of a fabric that wicks moisture away from the body, like fleece, merino wool, or synthetic polyester. This ensures that even when you sweat, all that moisture won’t just sit on your skin and make you cold.
On top of this base, add layers of warm insulating fabrics (such as wool or down) as needed. Make sure your outermost layer is water-repellant to keep the moisture in snow and ice from penetrating through your clothing. Warm socks and sturdy, waterproof shoes are also essential. Remember that mittens will always keep you warmer than gloves.
Another great winter accessory? A headlamp. The dark doesn’t have to be a deterrent. Give yourself some hands-free light and those dark winter afternoons are the perfect opportunity for exercise.
If you put together a winter outfit that fits all of these requirements, you’ll be able to comfortably participate in all sorts of outdoor activities throughout the Alaskan winter.
Staying Active in the Great Alaskan Outdoors
Exercise is all about getting your blood flowing and your muscles moving. There’s no shortage of ways to do that in Alaska. While we do have some harsh weather to deal with, we’re also lucky to enjoy some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, and there are an abundance of ways to admire Alaska’s natural beauty.
Many places, like Play It Again Sports or REI, offer rentals for cross-country skis or snowshoes, or you can invest in a pair of your own. You can always go for an old-fashioned hike on one of Alaska’s many trails if the snowfall allows.
If you prefer to move at a faster pace, give downhill skiing or snowboarding a try. The Anchorage area and many other parts of Alaska offer plenty of opportunities for skiing and snowboarding on established or backcountry runs.
Kids can benefit from physical activity during the winter just as much as adults. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children and adolescents should get an average of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. If you have kids at home who are feeling the effects of cabin fever, bundle them up and get some exercise together. Have a snowball fight, build a snow fort, or play at a playground (they don’t close in the winter!) — anything that gets both of you up and moving.
Sledding is another great activity for kids as well as parents. While going down the hill on a sled might not be the best exercise, hiking to the top of the hill a couple of times will definitely get your heart rate up.
Sometimes, the weather is just too cold and snowy to be outside any longer than you have to. Not to worry — there are still all kinds of ways to stay active inside the comfort and warmth of your own house.
In Your Home
For the guidance of a personal trainer without any of the expense or hassle, look no further than the Internet. Youtube has an endless supply of follow-along exercise videos, tailored to all sorts of fitness goals and levels of skill.
Try a quick Youtube search for “exercise videos for beginners,” “with weights,” “for women over 50,” “to lose belly fat,” or another phrase that describes your situation. The odds are good that you can find a video that’s a perfect fit for you.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean weight lifting and circuit training, though. Pilates and yoga are an excellent way to stay fit and healthy while staying indoors. You can find a video to follow along with, or, if you know a little about Pilates and yoga already, you can customize your own routine and move at your own pace.
Exercising through yoga and Pilates can be an ideal option if you suffer from back or neck pain, or another injury that keeps you from participating in other types of physical activity.
At the Gym
If you can get out of the house, there’s also the option of heading to the gym. You’ll likely have access to more choices of exercise equipment than you have in your own home. Most gyms offer tracks for running or walking, and some also feature swimming pools, rock climbing walls, and other opportunities for physical activity.
Many people find that it’s easier to get motivated when they’re around other people who are also exercising. Your local gym may even offer classes or weekly meetups to help you stick to a consistent exercise routine. (If there aren’t any meetups happening at your gym, why not organize one yourself?)
We all know the benefits of regular exercise: reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, maintaining a healthy weight, lower stress levels, and improved mood (to name just a few — read more from the CDC). Unfortunately, during the cold, dark winter months, it can be easy to do little or no physical activity.
But if you’re willing to put in some effort, you can reap all the benefits of regular exercise, even in the depths of an Alaskan winter.