Healthy Living in the North

Overcoming challenges for physical activity

Crystal, outside physical activity.

Crystal, showing dedication and braving the Dawson Creek winter elements to fit some physical activity into her work day.

Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that drastically turned my world upside down. Being active was something that was always important to me and now, at the age of only 20 years old, I was faced with learning how to live with a disease that affected my ability to perform even the simplest of everyday activities.

Working at Northern Health has been a good fit for me, but especially in managing my health. I have enough flexibility in the job that on good days I could be out in the field working and on bad days I could stay in the office. As time went on, I noticed that I started to spend more time in the office. As a result, I walked less and sat much more. Something needed to change.

In 2009 I made a life change. I stepped outside of my personal comfort zone and signed up for a 12 week boot camp at the local gym. I still remember that first day. I was so self-conscious about being weak and poorly conditioned. But, instead of giving up, I kept with it. I also hired a personal trainer. It was a learning experience for both of us as we figured out how I could modify the movements.

At Northern Health we are beginning to walk the walk and be the face of health within our communities and, as we have learned the last few weeks, workplaces are great locations to promote healthy living and integrate physical activity into daily life. I decided that I wanted to use what I had learned over the years and share it with my co-workers, so I created a contest.

In the winter of 2013, the Dawson Creek and Fort St. John health units challenged the Smithers and Terrace health units in the first ever internal Workplace Wellness “Healthier You Challenge.” This challenge was a fun, in-house 12-week pilot project designed around the Northern Health position papers. The focus of the challenge was to educate and engage staff on incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviours into their everyday routines.

Between the four health units, over 100 staff committed to the challenge. Each week I sent out a new worksheet that explained the week’s challenge. The “weekly” challenges were designed to get you moving and start thinking about healthy food choices.

The physical activity component was based on the key message that every move counts. This theme was carried over from week to week. Anytime an employee participated in any form of physical activity for 10 minutes or more, they logged that into their worksheet and gained points for their team. Participants also gained points for every kilometre travelled and/or steps that they took for the day. I got lots of motivation from B.C.’s Physical Activity Line.

The food challenges were based on Canada’s Food Guide and provincial initiatives. These changed week to week. Examples included eating vegetables and fruit, and reducing the amount of trans fat and high sodium foods that were consumed.

One of the big successes of the challenge was the creation of the “Break Challenge.” During the challenge, employees were encouraged to participate in some sort of physical activity for 15 minutes while at work. Each day a group of staff from the Dawson Creek Health Unit could be found outside walking around on their coffee breaks. It was common on the really cold days to find staff lunging, frog jumping, or walking in the hallways. At the end of Week 1, employees had participated in 342 physical activity breaks, 306 hours of physical activity, and had walked 2097 kms.

At the end of the challenge I surveyed participants, asking them what they liked best about the challenge and what changes they had made in their workplace as a result of the challenge. Some of the comments were:

  • Breaking down the challenge week by week made it feel more manageable and seem less daunting. I also liked the fact there was a different challenge each week.
  • For me the best part of the challenge was the joining of the individuals in our health unit to challenge each other in a supportive environment.
  • Able to critically look at the everyday and identify small opportunities for positive change vs. drastic and likely short lived changes.

This is the challenge that I developed for my fellow co-workers. It was fun and really got people engaged. For more information on some of the weekly challenges, or to find out which health unit won bragging rights, make sure to keep an eye for my future updates on the Northern Health blog. Alternatively, if you are looking for a workplace wellness program that your workplace can join, we encourage you to look at the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wellness Fits program.

Crystal Brown

About Crystal Brown

Accepting a position as an Environmental Health Officer with Northern Health, Crystal Brown moved from Nova Scotia to Dawson Creek in 2004. Since then, Crystal has developed an interest in health promotion and how our built environments impact our health. As the B.C. Branch President-Elect since 2011, Crystal works provincially and nationally with the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors to promote the mission statement and maintain the integrity of public health. In this, she also participates in initiatives that will help to strengthen and advance the profession. To stay active, Crystal attends a morning outdoor boot camp, runs and walks her dogs. In August, Crystal participated and completed her first ever Emperor's Challenge in Tumbler Ridge, B.C.

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