At lunchtime, with the sun shining on the town of 6,699 people in the Arctic capital of a sprawling territory, Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit, Nunavut, slings her swimsuit over her shoulder.
As she walks to her winter workout, her breath turns into cold silvery clouds and snow crunches underfoot. At the local recreation centre Mayor Redfern shrugs off heavy clothes, slips into her one-piece and into a tiny blue pool.
These swimming sessions are the 44-year-old’s way of dealing with her own and the community’s efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle, defined by a harsh environment and isolation. But by adapting to the challenges of the North she wonders: Can a workout feel effortless, but yield effective results?
“Eat well and exercise regularly so that I have energy to maintain a busy schedule and be healthy and feel good about myself. I find exercise important as a stress reliever.”
“At noon three to four times a week I swim front crawl for 20 minutes. Swimming is a soft aerobic exercise and the water acts as resistance.
“My goal is to increase the number of lengths I do. When I’m restarting a routine after time away on business, I start with 20 laps, and then build up laps at each session. I use the public pool; it’s the one facility used the most, but it has limited capacity. It was built in the ’70s and it’s smaller than a pool in many high-rises. It’s 12 strokes from one end to the other.
“When I travel south I bring my swimsuit, but I can’t always swim. My favourite thing is to walk the streets to clear my mind, get fresh air, and see the city I’m in.
“In Ottawa I did downhill skiing, skating, volleyball. Now back at home, sports are offered through the school gym and soon we’ll have a soccer turf. But when it’s minus 47 degrees the cold is brutal, so most activities are indoors, and then programs shut down over the summer.”
“I purchased some skates and cross-country ski equipment because I want to take advantage of public skating and when the spring comes I want to ski on our bay.”
“I want to resume some of the activities I used to do like badminton and aquafit, if you are overweight the water’s buoyancy is supportive and you can use the resistance as much as you can.
“That’s why we’re pushing for a new and larger pool because we recognize people in our community need programs that make it easier to get active. The number of children who want to swim is wonderful and surprising and swimming is not prohibitive in price in the same sense as hockey gear..”
“My diet is predominantly meat and fish based; the 100-mile diet here is different. I eat caribou, fish, whale, polar bear, walrus, seal – one’s diet is influenced by food available.
“Food from the south, chicken, pork, beef, vegetables and fruits, that are flown in daily are expensive. I shop for non-perishable foods – tinned corn, applesauce, tinned tomatoes, mayo and ketchup – once a year and ship them up and supplement them with milk, eggs, and produce.
“When I travel, the biggest item I take back with me is food. I’ll buy 12 pounds of butter, which is $3.27 versus $7 at home.
“Breakfast is coffee and a bowl of cereal or toast. Lunch is soup and a sandwich. For dinner I cook single-pot meals, but I might be cooking caribou heart with mashed garlic sweet potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts. In cold winter months I make stews of chowder with local seafood: arctic char, turbot, clams, and shrimp.
“When I have meetings during the night I cave in, pop over to the local shawarma joint. We have limited fast food, there’s no McDonald’s, no KFC or Subways. Some people are living in poverty so they do buy processed foods; pop and chips are cheaper than milk, bread, cheese, and produce.
“I enjoy being active. I find it’s harder to sleep and unwind; it’s good for my physical and psychological well-being.”
“None. The reason is when I exercise I’m trying to clear my mind or process information, so music is a distraction.”
“Travel is disruptive to having a regular exercise schedule. In the fall I travel every week. Also I get consumed by distractions: phone calls, meetings and a workday filled with new things coming out.”
Because men and women older than 30 must resistance-train to keep fat-burning muscle mass and increase their metabolism, Barrie Shepley, founder of personalbest.ca, offers two ways the mayor can enhance muscle, strength and energy.
“With inexpensive and easy-to-carry resistance tubing, the mayor can do a muscular conditioning program at her house, on the pool deck after swimming, or in a hotel room: Do two to three sets of 15 reps of bicep curls, triceps extensions, and then push-ups and two different core exercises that don’t need any equipment.”
Mr. Shepley adds, “Madeleine should consider an energy bar mid-afternoon or a protein drink to ensure that she does not become too hungry, and also keep enough protein in her diet to maintain (or grow) some muscle.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Special to The Globe and Mail