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Alaska’s daylight is dwindling. Here are 24 tips for surviving the wintertime blues.

  • Author: Laurel Andrews
  • Updated: November 12, 2016
  • Published November 11, 2016

Amy Hollinhead walks a portion of the trail toward Flattop Mountain near the Glen Alps trailhead of Chugach State Park on Thursday. (Marc Lester / Alaska Dispatch News)

Alaska's long, dark winters are notorious for turning fun-loving, active Alaskans into sad, pale, listless blobs. So how can we best combat winter malaise?

We asked medical professionals in different fields four simple questions on how Alaskans can best take care of their bodies and minds throughout the winter.

The most common advice, by far: Exercise. But there are other things we can do.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for staying happy and healthy during wintertime?

"What works best for me is what I recommend to friends and clients: Eating real, whole foods, exercising daily outside, limiting alcohol consumption, taking a small amount of Vitamin D daily, and taking a least one or two trips during the winter to warmer and sunnier places in the world … Also, having auto-start on my car has helped. Truly." — Adam Ottavi, Rolfer and somatic therapist, Fairbanks

"Be alcohol- and drug-free, and keep the mind and body busy with subsistence and hobbies, and healthy choices." — Maria Dexter, tribal healer, Norton Sound Health Corp., Nome

"Get outside and get active on a daily basis. Although we don't have firm scientific research in this area, years of personal and clinical experience have supported the idea that daily exercise helps fight winter blues. However, if you notice that as the season changes, you have a depressed mood, appetite, sleep, or weight changes, decreased concentration, or lack of motivation to participate in activities you enjoy, you may have seasonal affective disorder. SAD is something your doctor can treat, so make an appointment if you have concerns."  — Dr. Kieara Conway, Medical Park Family Care, Anchorage

"Take time for work/life balance – give yourself a true day off at least once a week. Slow down, get adequate rest, spend time with loved ones and keep warm." — Dr. Gary L. Ferguson II, naturopathic doctor, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium senior director of community health services, Anchorage

"In Chinese medicine the winter season is a time for rest and replenishment. If we don't adjust our lifestyles to accommodate seasonal changes we will likely struggle in one way or another. Make time for stillness, reflection and quietude in the winter." — Kevin Meddleton and Samantha Berg, Alaska Center for Acupuncture, Palmer

"Get a little bit of exercise in the outdoors every day. Even if it is a 10-minute walk outside during your lunch hour. If it is cold outside — bundle up and get out there. Try and get this done while the sun is out." — Dr. Ellen Hodges, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. chief of staff, Bethel

"Having activities both small (that weekly dodgeball league with your co-workers) and big (that Kanye West concert in Seattle) on your radar to look forward to is integral. Knowing that multiple events are on the horizon to break up the monotony can make those winter days just a little more tolerable." — Kris Craig, licensed professional counselor, Anchorage

An APU nordic ski team member goes through a workout on man-made snow at Kincaid Park in Anchorage, December 2015. (Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News)

What is one thing most people don't do to stay happy and healthy, but should?

"Many Alaskans suffer from vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Along with the well-known benefit to bone health, medical research suggests vitamin D supplementation may decrease flares of winter-related atopic dermatitis (eczema) …Your doctor can help you determine the best dose for you.  The amount in your multivitamin may not be enough." — DrConway

"Sometimes people avoid social contact because they are feeling blue, or the weather is poor and they don't feel like going outside. Keeping a healthy social life can combat some of the winter blues." — Dr. Hodges

"Get/give your daily hugs. Hugs truly are medicine and especially for our elders, who may be lonely during the winter months." — Ferguson, naturopath

"Being proactive just before and during cold and flu season can go a long way. One way to do this is to regularly take an immune tonic herb or herbal combination. … Herbs that are commonly regarded as immune tonics include Astragalus root and Reishi mushroom."  — Dr. Aimee Kaye, naturopath, Alaska Center for Natural Medicine, Fairbanks 

"Make healthy choices for one's own self and for family members. Be motivated in being positive in any situation." — Dexter, tribal healer

"Make sure you wash your hands frequently. Winter frequently causes people to crowd together in homes and at events, which can contribute to the transmission of colds and influenza." — Dr. Joseph A. Klejka, physician, Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corp. corporate medical director, Bethel

"Winter presents the perfect time to catch up on things that summer weather pushed to the back-burner. … It sounds simple and reductive, but identify what brings you joy and then actually do those things. It is often when we need to engage in self-care the most that we do it the least, and winter is no exception." — Craig, counselor

"Exercise outside, because it places our system within the elements. And we begin to embrace winter because we are part of it. For me, it makes winter more fun to experience it. To play in it. Rather than to hide from it indoors." — Ottavi, Rolfer and somatic therapist

Sabnna Barber heats up soup as skiers and snowboarders on the east side of Turnagain Pass enjoy a warm spring day, April 2013. (Bob Hallinen / ADN archive)

What is one thing people should avoid doing, in order to stay happy and healthy?

"If you want to avoid winter weight gain and the associated health risks, avoid overindulging in alcohol and unhealthy foods. Women should (generally) limit alcohol consumption to one unit a day, and two for men. … As for food choices, I typically recommend the Mediterranean diet to patients; it is associated with a number of health benefits." — Dr. Conway

"Don't become a recluse, and don't overconsume food or alcohol. Get out and be social! Make exercise a social engagement." — Warren Moore, chiropractor, Spaulding Chiropractic, Fairbanks

"Avoid the slippery slope of disrupting your sleep cycle. … Sleeping too much, or staying up into the night, and then sleeping all day can put your mind/body into an emotional roller-coaster. Getting up at a regular time in the morning and going to bed at reasonable times in the evening helps keep your body in balance." — Dr. Ferguson, naturopath

"Make sure there is enough air flow in your house. Frequently people winterize their homes too tightly, increasing humidity within the home that can contribute to mold growth. Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector and check its batteries, which will alarm if your heating unit inadvertently releases carbon monoxide into the home. This can be a silent killer during the winter." — Dr. Klejka

A biker nears the halfway point in the Frosty Bottom 50-mile race on January 3, 2015 at Far North Bicentennial Park in Anchorage. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Given the relatively warm winters of the past few years, is there any advice you'd give tailored to these specific conditions? 

"Get outside as much as possible when there's sunshine. Even 10 minutes with some skin exposed can help." — Moore, chiropractor

"Some people may experience early onset of springtime allergies or asthma. Make sure not to wear outside shoes in the house as you may be tracking in dead leaves and mud that contain mold spores or other allergens. Wash your hands, face, clothes and bedding regularly to reduce the number of allergens you are exposed to. " — Dr.Kaye, naturopath

"Make a daily practice of not complaining. Complaining is like a negative virus that spreads terribly, infecting everyone around us. Maintaining vital health is a dynamic balance of ever-changing inner and outer circumstances. … We live in a paradise here in Alaska and it's up to us to discover how fortunate we are every day!" — Meddleton and Berg, acupuncturists

"Be adaptable. Get outside and be active by whatever means you can! There are so many great opportunities in Anchorage to get outside and get your heart rate up even if we have another dry winter. … But remember to have the right gear for outdoor play. With our new weather patterns, we often have to deal with lots of ice. … Invest in ice grippers or studs for your shoes." — Dr. Conway

A hiker walks along the edge of Flattop Mountain on Saturday, December 27, 2014. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

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