Healthy Living in the North

The story of HIV is changing

Stickers with HIV awareness messaging

You can live with HIV if you act to know your status and deal with it. Even if you don’t believe you are at risk, find out. Know for sure. Get tested.

Earlier this month, you may remember a news story featuring actor Charlie Sheen, who revealed that he is HIV-positive. With World AIDS Day upon us, Sheen’s revelation is a reminder that that the story of HIV is changing.

It used to be that a lot of heterosexual people thought they got a free pass on HIV because it was seen as something you only had to worry about if you were gay or an intravenous (IV) drug user.

The way people viewed HIV – and the way that too many still view it – is coloured by fear. We all want to be OK so we look for ways to spin our thinking: “If it’s transmitted through a kind of sex I don’t have, then I’m OK. If it’s transmitted through IV drug use, then I’m OK.” This spin, however, feeds into prejudice and discrimination against those believed to be at risk and it gives many of us a false sense of security.

It may be because of these false beliefs that one of the best protections against HIV infection is not used as often as it should be. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009-10, more than three in ten young adult Canadians (15 to 24 years) did not use a condom the last time they had sex.

The truth is HIV is unquestionably transmitted through heterosexual sex. According to the STOP Report published in 2015, in B.C. between 2010 and 2014, heterosexual transmission accounted for 25% of all new HIV cases. In northern B.C., 39% of all new HIV cases were among heterosexual people. Another truth is that while high-risk sex with multiple partners may increase the likelihood of contracting HIV, it only takes being unsafe one time.

There’s another important piece to Charlie’s story, though. In an interview, he said that since he was diagnosed four years ago, he has been consistently taking antiretroviral medications. His doctor verified that he has a suppressed viral load. The current state of HIV treatment has advanced to the point where someone who has achieved suppression and maintains treatment can look forward to living a normal lifespan and is not a risk to transmit HIV to others.

Charlie Sheen’s story shows that you can live with HIV if you act to know your status and deal with it. Even if you don’t believe you are at risk, find out. Know for sure. Get tested.


Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Andrew Burton & Sam Milligan. Learn more about our blog authors.

 

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Stay connected and get involved to conquer winter!

Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Andrew Burton, Holly Christian, Danielle Munnion and Lana Vanderwijk. It was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine.


 

Northern living presents a whole host of challenges that can lead to social isolation. The long, cold and dark winters can make it difficult to get out. Many people leave for work before the sun rises and don’t get home until after it has set. This can put a real damper on your mood, energy level and motivation.

But there are lots of things that you can do to prevent this! The key to conquering winter is staying involved and connected! Research suggests that having an active social life and staying engaged in the community leads to better mental, physical and emotional health. So let’s conquer winter together this year and come out even healthier on the other side! Here are a few ways that you can get involved and stay connected in your community.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to be involved in the community, and there’s no easier time to start since the holiday season typically offers many opportunities for volunteering! There are so many different organizations in need of help that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that piques your interest! Volunteering gets you up and out of the house, is a great way to meet new people, and is associated with better mental and emotional health. It’s also linked to greater resiliency – that is, the ability to bounce back and cope with unexpected change.

Hello, neighbour!

Volunteering doesn’t strictly mean giving your time to an organization, though. The word “volunteer” simply means to do something and expect no financial gain. There are other ways to benefit from volunteering that don’t require an organization for you to get involved. For instance, you could help a neighbour shovel their driveway, offer to walk their dog, grab their mail while you grab yours, or help them to put up their Christmas lights. There are many things you can do that would surely be appreciated and are great ways to get to know your neighbours or kindle new friendships. And it’s these types of social connections that promote healthy aging and lead to better health for both you and your neighbours!

Try something new!

Three adults carpet bowling

Whether you’re trying something new like carpet bowling at a community centre or sharing a hobby with a neighbour, staying connected this winter will help you to come out even healthier in the spring!

Another great way to meet new people is to try something new! Take up a new activity: try yoga, join a local curling team, or check out the local pool. Many pools offer activities like Aquafit – and what better way to meet someone new than to chat for a bit while soaking sore muscles in a hot tub after a good workout in the pool! Sports, especially team sports, and other organized physical activities are good for your health in more ways than one. They help you stay active and physically fit and during exercise, your body releases endorphins – chemicals produced by the body that can relieve pain and induce a state of euphoria – which make you feel good.

Share your hobbies

In addition to more organized activities like sports, hobbies such as a knitting group, an art or photography class, or a choir also keep you socially engaged. Informal clubs like these provide a great reason to get out of the house on a regular basis during those cold, dark winters. They also provide a place to meet new people with similar interests and make new friends. Many activities offered in our communities are free or have a low cost associated with them, making them easy to attend. The social interaction associated with attending these activities has huge benefits for your health, too, especially in terms of increasing your resiliency, giving you a sense of purpose, improving brain function and memory, and boosting your mood because you’re doing something you enjoy with people you enjoy!

Why connect?

Winter, and the holiday season in particular, is a time of giving – but why do we do it? Because it makes us feel good! We get to spend time with our friends and family and enjoy the satisfaction of making others feel good, too. We enjoy knowing that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life because we’re social creatures. Humans weren’t meant to spend all of their time in solitude. We need those personal, social and spiritual connections and we need to be involved in order to be as happy and healthy as possible.

Start now for stress-free and golden years!

Engaging in activities prior to retirement makes us more likely to continue them after we retire (which is handy because that’s when we have more time to enjoy them, too!). Having activities and social connections in place is key to ensuring that you are happy, healthy and engaged once you no longer have co-workers by your side day-in, day-out to chat with. This fall and winter, make it your goal to try something new: volunteer, try a new activity or join a club! There are so many ways you can benefit from putting yourself out there and we want those “golden years” to be truly that: stress-free and golden!

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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An old guy thinks out loud

This is the first in a series of posts that we’ll be sharing about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next four weeks, we want to see how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Man and woman talking

For Andrew, healthy aging is not just about moving away from illness and infirmity. Instead, it’s about moving toward a positive – and social connections are a key part of this!

How did I know I was old? Was it when the waitress asked me if I wanted the seniors menu? Was it when my granddaughter asked: “Was it really like that in the olden days, Papa?” Was it when I met my new doctor and thought (but didn’t say) “I have kids older than you …”? Hard to say, but likely I became aware of my aging status because of all three and others I don’t recall.

There’s a lot to gripe about as you get older. Things don’t work as well as they used to and a lot of conversations seem to turn to health concerns and to drugs … discussions about blood pressure and cholesterol lowering combinations, etc.

But there are so many wonderful things about aging, especially when you’re able to age healthily. You have more free time. You can speak your mind and share your stories (people will either respect what you say or cut you some slack because you’re old). You get seniors’ discounts. There’s more, but I’ll get to the point.

There are things we all need to do to age well. Chances are you’ve heard advice about diet and exercise, avoiding isolation, steering clear of tobacco and practicing moderation with alcohol. These are important, but let’s look at things differently. A lot of this advice is presented as ways to avoid getting sick, to avoid physical and mental deterioration. While true, there is a deeper perspective and a lot of it has to do with the benefits of social connectedness:

  • You can approach diet with an eye to nutrition, vitamins, calories and so forth. Add to that the social and emotional experience of preparation and sharing meals. Make mealtimes an opportunity for connection to others and for social interaction.
  • Exercise is a great way to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar but it also feels good. Finding exercise opportunities you enjoy is rewarding in itself. (For me, it’s riding a bike and swimming.) Right now is a good time to walk through the park and enjoy the fall colours. Walking with others is a chance to enjoy connections to others.
  • Having a drink in social situations is a part of life for a lot of us. Consider what makes socializing enjoyable and what is safe for you. Moderation increases the enjoyment of social events.

Sharing stories, playing games and finding opportunities to connect with others in social settings can be fun as well as keeping us mentally and emotionally sharp. Volunteer opportunities can be a way to meet a range of people, to stimulate your mind and to help others in their life journey.

Honoring ourselves by caring for our good health can be thought of as moving away from illness and infirmity or it can be a way to find more and deeper satisfaction in life. I find moving toward a positive more appealing than moving away from a negative.

How do you move towards the positive when it comes to health? How does your community support active, healthy, social living? Show us as part of our photo contest for your chance to share your community’s story and win!

Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 1 is: “Show us how you are active in your community!” Submit your photo at http://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Walking for life

Digital painting of man in coffee shop.

To accompany his blog post about HIV and the AIDS Walk for Life, Andrew Burton created this original piece entitled “Café Scene”.

J is sitting quietly in the corner by the front door of the café. There are several people scattered around the room chatting, drinking coffee, eating nachos or oversized muffins. J keeps to himself. J has a cold. He warns me of it when I sit down. “I used to get really scared,” he says, “every time I got sick.” He stirs his coffee and smiles:

I would wonder, is this the one? Is this just a cold or some kind of rare pneumonia? Being HIV positive, you can get vigilant looking for the infection that could take you out. I was diagnosed in 1995. Back then, everybody thought it was a death sentence. I was scared at first, then angry, but it turned out I was one of the lucky ones. I got on medication early, stuck to it and got suppressed. So, it’s all good, right?

Today, at 50, J is part of some positive statistics. An increasing number of people living with HIV are living longer, healthier lives. The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS estimates that there are 273 people in northern B.C. living with HIV and 123 of them are over 50 years old. About 92 of those are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication and 66 are suppressed – that is, the virus is undetectable in their blood.

Back in the café, J looks around the room:

It was hard to stick with the meds at first. The side effects were a problem and it’s tough staying on track when you don’t feel sick or when the side effects are what are making you feel sick. They were harsh in the early days. They’re so much better now.

The key to a long and healthy life for people living with HIV is to be tested and diagnosed early, before their immune system is seriously compromised, then to begin treatment and keep on track with it. Over time, the medications have improved. Current regimens require fewer pills, have fewer side effects, and less toxicity. “I used to wonder how people would react if they knew,” J says,

Back then there was still a lot of stigma … not so much anymore. People ask how I got infected. I don’t mind that so much. It’s none of their business, really, but at least they are up front about asking. What really gets to me are the ones who just make assumptions … usually negatives.

People living with HIV still deal with stigma. People fear the disease and jump to conclusions about people who have it. The truth is everyone is at risk for HIV. Stand up and show your support. Join the AIDS Walk in your community this September – there are walks happening around the province from September 12-20.

In Prince George, where I live, September 16, 2015, is the Scotiabank Positive Living North AIDS Walk for Life at the Prince George Civic Centre. Registration is at 11:30 with the walk going from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. More information is available from AIDS Walk For Life.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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World Hepatitis Day: What you need to know

Graphic image of head with virus images in top right corner.

For World Hepatitis Day, Andrew Burton created a graphic image titled “Hepatitis on my Mind”. What can you do to prevent hepatitis?

July 28 is World Hepatitis Day. It’s an important day to remind us all to take care of our bodies!

Hepatitis is a group of diseases that affect the liver. The liver is the largest organ inside the body and one that most of us take for granted. Your liver cleans away toxins, fights infections and helps to digest food. It’s a strong and resilient organ. Most of the time it can heal itself but some things can seriously harm it.

Hepatitis, alcohol and some drugs can damage the liver, creating scarring called fibrosis that can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. The Public Health Agency of Canada predicts that by 2027, deaths related to cirrhosis and liver cancer will increase by 27 per cent.

There are seven identified types of viral hepatitis with types A, B and C being most common. You can be immunized against hepatitis A and B, but not C.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is the leading cause of liver transplants. About 80 per cent of people who have the acute form of HCV show no noticeable symptoms. HCV can live and grow in the body for years without being noticed until serious harm has been done. HCV can also be a co-infection with other illnesses, such as HIV or hepatitis A or B, that make the damage worse.

HCV is spread by blood-to-blood contact such as sharing drug-using equipment; reusing tools in tattooing, body piercing, acupuncture and electrolysis; sharing items that have blood on them like toothbrushes, razors or nail clippers; and unprotected sex where blood could be present.

The only way to really know if you have HCV is to get tested. A simple blood test can tell you if you have come in contact with the virus.

There is some good news about HCV: it is curable. Treatment can eliminate the infection from the body. Knowing your HCV status is the first step. Take that step. Get tested.

Ask yourself what you do now that could put you at risk. Where you see risk factors, make some changes. We all have room to lead healthier lives!

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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“How much, how often, and when?” A drinker asks some questions

Bottle of wine, wine glass, calendar, and clock on a counter

How much, how often, and when are all important questions to ask when considering alcohol use.

The holiday season is fast approaching. In November and December, many people tend to drink alcohol more often, culminating in what is possibly the biggest potential drinking event of all for many people: New Year’s Eve. Often, at some point during this season, people ask themselves, “Do I drink too much?” It’s a good question and it is one that all people who drink should ask from time to time. There are problems with this question, though: How much is too much? Is it only the amount we drink that matters? Let’s consider three questions that I think might be good to ask ourselves:

  • How much?
  • How often?
  • When?

These three questions can help us to recognize the issues and problems related to drinking. Asking them can also help us to gain insight into ourselves and into the culture of our communities. They may lead to other important questions as well.

How much?

How much alcohol a person uses is important. People are different and what may be safe or low-risk use for one person may not be safe or low-risk for another. There is no fixed amount that is safe for everyone so it’s good to know how much you drink. It is also useful to reflect on changes in how much you have had to drink over time. Are you drinking more than you used to? What accounts for that change?

How often?

How often a person drinks is important as well. A person may not drink a lot but if they drink often, then the effects of their use may become a problem. Do you drink more often than you used to? What effect is that having on you? What effect is that having on your relationships and on those around you?

When?

When a person drinks is another important consideration. Asking this question can give some insight into the role that alcohol has in a person’s life. Asking “when?” can highlight what drives a person to drink and can be an indicator of potential problems. Do you drink in social situations? Do you drink when you are stressed? Do you drink to cope?

Canada has endorsed a set of Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. These guidelines are a good start when considering your answers to the questions I asked above. Getting to know yourself and understanding your relationship with alcohol are further steps toward building a better, healthier life.

For more information about low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines, I suggest the following resources:

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Alcohol: Dollars and sense

alcohol, costs, social, economic

Let’s change the conversation we have about alcohol. Let’s find a better story.

Is there someone you know who drinks more than they should? Sometimes we think it’s none of our business. Maybe we say to ourselves, “I drink once in a while, but I don’t have a problem. If other people drink too much that’s their business. Right?” Let’s rethink that for a minute.

We all know about motor vehicle crashes caused by drinking and driving because it’s in the news a lot. What gets less attention is the 44% of boating fatalities and 27% of hospitalizations because of falls that are alcohol-related. Then, there’s the violence. Alcohol plays a part in a lot of assaults. Self-harm and suicides often involve alcohol, as well. About 35% of reported family violence cases identify alcohol as a factor. And that’s just what’s reported. How many don’t mention it? How many times does violence or alcohol involvement go unreported?

Right now, though, let’s consider this number: 1,267. The problems caused by alcohol cost us about $1,267 per person every year. That’s the cost of policing, health care, loss of productivity and many other costs. $1,267 might not sound like much but that is per person. When you consider the whole population, it amounts to $14.7 billion – and that’s just the dollar cost. That’s what alcohol adds to our taxes every year.

There’s a human cost as well. What about the thousands of people left with partial or permanent disabilities? What about the families and communities left to pick up the pieces? What about the children growing up in homes where alcohol use is the norm? What about the lives filled with heartache?

If you believe this cost is too high, you could do something about it. You could talk to people about safe use of alcohol. What do you hear people say about drinking? Do they talk about the problems or just about the good times? Do they talk about safety?

Let’s change the conversations we have about alcohol. Let’s find a better story.

If you know someone who drinks too much, have you talked to them about it? Have you let them know you care? It’s a conversation worth having. You could save a life and maybe make your community a healthier and safer place to call home.

If you think alcohol-related injuries are other peoples’ problem, you might consider having a word with yourself. Change the conversation. You could help save some of that money that alcohol problems cost all of us every year. You could make life better for everyone, and maybe play a part in saving some lives and make your contribution to building a better community.

Have you had a conversation with someone about their alcohol use? What tips would you share? Tell us in the comments section below.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Practising Safe Boating

Canoe fishing on a lakeOkay I’ll admit it. I like to have a beer now and again. Drinking is a part of a lot of our lives, but sometimes it’s just not a good idea.

Awhile back, my wife and I went canoeing on a popular lake north of town. It was a good day, clear and sunny. During our paddle around the lake we were almost capsized by a couple of guys in a power boat. We made it back to the beach safely but it was a close call.

When we got back on land we encountered the guys from the power boat. They were not “bad people.” They apologized for almost overturning us and offered us each a beer from a cooler between the seats. There were empties rattling around in the bottom of the boat and both looked to be a little bit drunk. Now these guys would probably not drive a car after drinking but they thought of going out in a boat as something different. It didn’t occur to them that impaired is impaired or that a boat is a motor vehicle.

Because of the work I do, I know that according to the Canadian Red Cross, about 200 people will die in boating accidents in Canada this year and that 25% of those will have alcohol in their blood. About 40% of all boating mishaps involve alcohol. Operating a vessel while under the influence is a Criminal Code offence. Drinking on a boat that does not have onboard living accommodations is an offence as well.

We all want to have a good time. Part of having a good time is getting home safe.

How are you and your family staying safe on the water this summer?

Resources:

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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A gap in health promotion for a specific population

Caution deer

What should we caution deer on Haida Gwaii about?

Recently I took a trip to Haida Gwaii with my theatre group. Part of our work involved travelling along the beautiful shore road between the communities of Skidegate and Massett, a trip that takes over an hour of driving. Along the way, we noticed many of the small deer that inhabit the island grazing along the roadside. We also passed a very large yellow sign with a deer silhouette and the words “Caution Deer” in big block letters.

It occurred to us that some kind soul had posted the sign to engage passing motorists, both drivers and passengers, encouraging action for the benefit of the deer population. We discussed this directive to “Caution Deer” at length. What should we caution them about? Some of our group opted for warnings about hunters or keeping fawns away from eagles. Clearly they were not taking the “Caution Deer” ask seriously. A vigorous discussion ensued.

Of course the obvious risk factors came to mind. We wondered if the deer were eating a balanced diet. It would appear from all the grazing we witnessed that they consume a lot of grasses and other plants. There was a lot of that available so food security seemed moot. There may be a concern with contamination and pollutants from dining so close to the road, however.  Before a truly meaningful program of cautioning deer about nutrition could take place it seems we would need a detailed research regimen to determine dietary needs and availability. On a positive note, there were often groups of deer grazing together. This underscores the positive social value of communal meal sharing.

From the look of the creatures and from the way they moved it did not seem that sedentary behavior was a concern so encouraging an active lifestyle would likely be preaching to the choir. Still there may be opportunity to collaboratively assess and develop a broader range of healthy movement and integrate it into their day to day behavior.

We did not see any indication of tobacco use among the deer so that too is either of no concern or is well hidden. (Pedro was the dissenting opinion in this as he noted some cigarette butts along the shoulder of the road but these could have been from other wildlife. Again this provides a rich potential area for study). Other substance use also was not evident. The island does support a range of hallucinogenic mushrooms but we saw no evidence of use among the deer population. (This may be a seasonal problem not manifested at this time of year. Again, further study is required.)

One area that seems to offer ample room for intervention and possible positive outcome is in the field of injury prevention. After all, the deer were spending what seemed like a great deal of time near roadways, which offer a high risk for unfortunate interaction. Also we saw a number of deer running and jumping over fences and obstacles. None of them were wearing any protective gear!

As a group we settled on our caution to the deer to be “look both ways before crossing the highway” and “don’t drink the sea water.” (One of our group had tasted it and insisted on including this warning.) These are not an entirely satisfactory set of cautions to be sure, but it was the best we could manage on such short notice.

In retrospect, it’s worth thinking about the overall health of the deer population of Haida Gwaii and considering how we could promote positive behavior in how they live, eat, run, play and interact. Doing so would have the obvious benefit of preventing disease and disability among the deer population but it could also improve the overall quality of life for the deer and for those humans fortunate enough to encounter them in the future.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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In Consideration of the Slow Bicycle

Slow biking

Riding your bike has a lot of health benefits. Will you ride this year?

When you live in the north, things are different. Bicycle riding is a case in point. In the south, people ride bicycles year round. They develop a way of being that incorporates their bike. In the north, with the exception of a few diehards, the bicycle is a seasonal thing. Garages, garden sheds and basements throughout the region harbor our bikes usually from the first snowfall until the roads are once more clear. Sure signs of spring are not just the return of robins to our yards but the return of bicycles to our streets.

To mark this emergence from the cold season, we in the north celebrate and promote Bike to Work Week each year. It may be a provincial event but in the north it is one of our harbingers of spring. This year Bike to Work Week is May 27 to June 2.All over the north people are getting out their bicycles, cleaning and adjusting them, getting ready for the week. Many are organizing teams and issuing challenges to others.

For some, this event is important because riding a bicycle is good exercise. They look at bike riding as health promotion. It certainly is because exercise reduces many health risks:

  • It is good for your heart
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • It increases your overall fitness
  • And bike riding is a solidly low impact pursuit that most people can do

However, there is much more to it than that. Bicycle riding is an experience in itself that means something unique to each individual. For many people the idea of biking has some clear associations. For some bicycles seem to be a part of childhood: “Yeah, I rode a bike when I was a kid. Then I got my license.” In that case, riding might have an element of nostalgia, a return to a simpler time. For others biking has taken on a defined culture hallmarked by riding shoes, flashy helmets, carbon fiber components, lycra and spandex. Bicycle riding for some is about speed, competition and high tech equipment. I do not mean to be critical of such things. To each his or her own, but where does that leave those of us that ride in jeans and street shoes or those who ride bikes scrounged at garage sales and serviced with duct tape and WD40?

An emerging movement that may be of interest is something called the “Slow Bicycle Movement.” Slow Biking is all about the journey. It’s about riding peacefully, leisurely, about being comfortable and enjoying the world around us as we move from place to place. The slow bike is designed for comfort. The slow biker is a person making their way through their life on two wheels, going to work, going to play or going shopping. Whatever you do in the course of the day can be made more interesting more pleasurable and healthier by making a bicycle a part of it.

We live in a world that builds stress. We have schedules to keep, agendas to fulfill, commitments and conflicts to manage throughout our daily lives. Taking the time to ride provides more than cardio. It provides an opportunity for mindfulness. A slow-paced comfortable ride makes it possible to notice things. For me, getting my bike out of the shed and taking those first rides of the spring involved seeing the first crocuses emerging along the Heritage Trail and dodging the snowy patches hanging on in shady areas. It involved people watching in my neighborhood, waving to the elderly man on the corner preparing his yard for spring planting. It involved consciously considering purchases in the grocery store in light of what I could carry in my backpack. A casual ride in the evening gives me time to reflect on the events of the day and to plan for tomorrow as well. Later on, sitting in my chair I felt clear-headed and at peace. There was a gentle ache in muscles underused over the winter. For me that ache felt good.

Will you participate in Bike to Work Week this year? What does bike riding mean to you?

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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