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Winter Workout: Playing Your Way Into Shape

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During the cold winter months it’s very easy to rationalize your way into over eating, not exercising, and generally treating your body poorly. For those of us who dwell in climates that include frost, snow, ice and freezing rain for months on end, gaining weight during the winter is almost a rite of passage.

Eating healthy and exercising are not seasonal activities, however, they’re things we do all year long, no matter where we live and how unforgiving the temperature is. In fact, winter is actually a great time to get, and stay, in shape. Without the brutal humidity, exercising outdoors during winter can actually be easier on the body. And, there are plenty of great winter sports that one can participate in to keep off the pounds and keep your energy up.

Here are four activities you can get involved in this winter to stay in shape:

Pictured: Stevia, a rainforest herb and natural, zero-calorie sugar substitute. Reducing sugar intake among youth may improve mental health and curb bullying, violence and the rash of school shootings in the U.S., says 1968 ski racing Olympian Suzy Chaffee. (

Pictured: Stevia, a rainforest herb and natural, zero-calorie sugar substitute. Reducing sugar intake among youth may improve mental health and curb bullying, violence and the rash of school shootings in the U.S., says 1968 ski racing Olympian Suzy Chaffee. (

Basketball : Dunk Like Dobbs, Shake like Shoni

Okay, so no matter how much you might play basketball, chances are you’re not going to be as good as Shoni Schimmel. Blessed with raw ability and the work ethic required to turn that into something truly special, players like Schimmel, who grew up playing ball on the Umatilla Reservation, are few and far between. That doesn’t mean, however, you shouldn’t use basketball as a great, and fun, way to stay in shape this winter.

Basketball provides practically unparalleled aerobic exercise, rivaled only by tennis in the intense amount of short-distance sprinting and lateral movement one does during a game. Basketball is also a bit of a track meet. Did you know if you played a game of full court basketball for 48 minutes, you’d run about ten miles. And playing a game of full court basketball is a lot more fun then running ten miles.

Finding a court to play on requires a bit of legwork. You can contact your local YMCA, find outdoor courts in your neighborhood or on your reservation, or, use online services like to help you locate the closest court.

There are also thousands of basketball leagues throughout the country, operated by entities like your local gyms or CYO organizations. Or, just do it the old fashioned way and get involved in a pick-up game.

Basketball is a beloved sport in Indian Country, sometimes a life-saving one, and it’s a great way to stay fit, have fun, and improve your game. You may not be able to fly like Kenny Dobbs, but if you play ball this winter, you’ll be doing your body a wealth of good and may just see the pounds fly off.

The Creator’s Game: Staying Lean with Lacrosse

In the origin story lacrosse as told by Kevin Sandy and Cam Bomberry, members of the Cayuga Nation, in a masterful power point they were kind enough to send us, lacrosse was given to American Indians from the creator. The Sky Woman fell from above, and, excepting, she gave birth to a girl. This girl grew to a young woman and she became pregnant through a spiritual dream. She gave birth to twins, one good, one evil. When the twins grew to manhood they had a contest to see which of them would rule this world, the good or the bad mind.

The first game they created was the ‘Great Peach Bowl Game,’ in which they played to a stalemate after six days. The next game they created was the ‘Stick Ball Game.’

In a more recent turn of events, our beloved Iroquois Nationals, who earlier this beat Team USA to win the Bowhunter Cup, and won the silver medal at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship in Prague, traveled to the White House to share their sport with the First Lady.

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Lacrosse is deeply rooted in American Indian culture, past and present, and also a great way to stay fit. It’s also a great way to get your blocked knocked off if you’re not careful, so if you’re new to the sport we advise starting slowly and learning the basics of the game.

Here’s a good basics of the game video here and here. Before you look into joining a team or a league, you can practice your stick skills while also getting in a great workout at the same time. The average lacrosse midfielder will run up to five miles in a match!

You may not be able to play like Jeff Shattler, but you can get an incredible work out playing this awesome sport.

Snowboarding : Mastering the Mountain

Snowboarding is becoming a big sport in Indian Country, and you won’t find a more fun way to stay in shape. Despite your feet being locked into a board, the workout your legs get from a day on the slopes is astounding.

Up in Canada, there’s now a First Nation’s Snowboard Team, sponsored by Nike and the Aboriginal Youth Sport Legacy Fund. “Founded in 2004 by 34-year-old Aaron Marchant, the FNST has grown from 10 members to 245 this year. In that time, the team has sent six members to competitions at the national level, and 45 members have become instructors (including one, Marchant says, who is “almost certified to certify”). By providing the means for young people to become professional athletes and trainers, FNST is creating sustainable, intergenerational change that benefits individuals and the First Nation communities that are their homes.”

Then there’s athletes like Eskimo Olympic snowboarder Callaln Chythlook-Sifsof inspiring American Indians all over North America to get out on the slopes. There are American Indian owned ski resorts, like Inn of the Mountain Gods and Ski Apache in New Mexico, that offer board rentals for reasonable rates as well as instruction courses. With North American being rich with mountains, you’re often only a car ride away from being able to get on a board and get the most fun workout of your life.

If snowboarding is a little too much for you, there’s always snowshoeing, which we described in our previous story on enjoying a winter workout via traditional native snow sports.

Track & Field: Bring Out your Inner Alvina Begay

Running. It’s the simplest, most cost effective way to stay in shape, and also the most feared, misunderstood, and loathed.

For those of you with a gym membership, running is easy. The treadmill offers an simple way to stay in shape, without the rigors and vagaries of running outdoors, where even the slightest change in the grade of the road you’re running out can intensify, and harden, your workout exponentially.

Yet, this is precisely why you should run outdoors, especially during the winter. With no humidity, winter running is actually easier on the body. We also find ourselves cooped up indoors for an unhealthy amount of time during the winter, so any chance to get outside, especially during the day, should be taken. As you run, your body will adjust to the cold and, in your winter running gear (long running or track pants, tight-fit long sleeve shirt, and a breathable, but warm, jacket over, gloves and a hat) you’ll soon not only forget about the cold, but start warming up to the point where you’ll be sweating.

Take Navajo long-distance runner, marathoner and 2012 Olympic hopeful Alvina Begay, who grew up running on the Navajo reservation in Ganado, Arizona, at an elevation of 6,000 + feet. As she’s striving to get kids in Indian Country in shape by through sport, including running, she leads by example on how getting, and staying, in shape can and will effect all aspects of your life in a positive way.

Outdoor running costs you nothing in terms of money, which is always a bonus, and yet the rewards your body will reap are huge. The changes in the grade of your running route help work out different parts of your body, whereas running on a level treadmill doesn’t offer the same kind of full body workout. And this is a component of outdoor running people often miss—it’s a full body workout, from your arms and back to your calves, and everywhere in between. A round of pushups and situps before your run will give you a complete workout, and you can do this in under an hour.

Check out these helpful running tips from Runner’s World to get you going.