Healthy Living in the North

Healthy Community Development

Houston, Healthy Communities

The Houston ACT Committee kick off WinterFest in February 2014. The group is supported by Northern Health’s Partnering for Healthier Communities Committee. (Photo credit: Houston Today)

Northern Health partners with local governments to support communities to “come together” and take the lead on initiatives that support healthy community development. As a result, powerful and effective projects are currently underway across northern B.C.

One of the greatest assets Northern Health can call on in its mission to support healthy individuals in the north is the ingenuity and passion of the residents. The available pool of talent and experience is a rich asset. Building on the partnerships and the rich assets, Northern Health has supported 20 northern B.C. communities to bring together the movers and shakers to develop healthier communities.

For example, in Houston, B.C., community members developed an “ACT Committee” (ACT stands for Action Changes Things). The community teamed together to focus on what could have been termed “hidden assets.” In identifying and promoting the world class leisure recreation their community has to offer, to both residents and potential visitors, their initiative has social, health and economic benefits.

Another example is Seniart in Quesnel, B.C. This is a program for seniors who might not normally participate in community programs. It will run from September 2014 to January 2015. To spread the word about this program, seniors are encouraged to “be part of the art!” In this example, Northern Health is supporting the local leadership and direction of the Quesnel Healthier Communities Committee.

Research regularly shows that solutions and options developed with the input and direction of those most intimately associated with the issue have the greatest chance of success. The feedback and evaluations of our work suggests that the same is true in northern B.C. Central to this success is Northern Health’s organizational support for northerners to live healthfully in their communities; this is a shared goal, as northerners want to live in healthy communities, also. We know that communities and their champions are the very best resource we have in our progress towards that shared goal.

For more information on Northern Health’s Partnering for Healthier Communities Committees, please visit: www.northernhealth.ca/YourHealth/HealthyLivingCommunities/HealthyCommunitiesToolkit.aspx

What do you do to make your community a healthier place?

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Finding space to exercise in your community

Dog agility.

Theresa’s “one thing” has become exercising without noticing during dog agility classes with Squid.

Research tells us very clearly that exercise is vital to health. In fact, this has been knowledge from the time of the Roman philosopher Juvenal who proclaimed mens sana in copore sano (that means “pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.”) (Satire X, line 356).

In the modern world between the demands of work and family, finding time to do anything that might nurture your own body and well-being is often bottom of the “to do list,” yet, it’s just like they say when you board an airplane: “In the event of trouble, please put on your own air mask before assisting others.” Truly, if you’re not at your best, you can’t do what you have to do to the best of your ability.

So, having accepted that you really do need to invest in your own health, how do you make the switch? A healthy community is one that can help you figure that out. As a lifelong couch potato since leaving school and the intensity of playing hockey (that would be field hockey – equally as tough as the hockey on ice but with a lot less padding), I was forced by my own ill health into figuring out how to be more active. At the beginning, all I could handle was walking. And I walked lots. I found all kinds of trails and pathways that wound through my neighbourhood. In some cases, I found myself away from a city setting and in nature not a very far distance from where I started. I had never seen these areas, never even noticed their existence from my car. I began to venture further afield and visited many of the parks in our city. I began to realize Prince George could really be called the city of parks.

Active in your community.

How do you get active in your community?

I graduated from walking into running, and now my stamina and fitness is such that I have been able to enroll my little dog, Squid, into agility classes – and I can keep up! He is a young and incredibly smart little dog. If I don’t keep him well exercised he gets into mischief. The sad fact is that although I can keep up with him in terms of speed, he is far better than me at the actual agility and is excelling in the class. I, on the other hand, am in danger of flunking out.

However, that aside, I run – and run hard – without noticing because I am too busy figuring out where my left side is supposed to be in a rear cross (that is, a sequence in dog agility.) This has become my thing – the one thing that gives such pleasure that I am exercising without even noticing. This wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been able to start small and with much gratitude to the planners who built these spaces into our neighborhoods.

A healthy community is one that has a wide range of options to help you find your “one thing” that will work for you. Whether it’s a weekly one hour in the local pool with a child, hiking local trails or becoming a roller derby queen, there is something in your community that will entice you away from the couch, the TV or the warmth of that early morning “one more snooze button” state. For me, exploring my city slowly on foot morphed into running which has opened so many more options – such as the agility class – that I never expected. What is your one thing going to be?

[Editor's note:  This is a great example of what the key message "It takes a whole community working together to create healthy environments" means to Theresa. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Poverty and health – an unbreakable bond?

I must remain a force for change

Local graffiti: “I must remain a force for change.”

World Poverty Day, which fell on October 17 this year, doesn’t spark fundraising walks or appeals for funds but it’s still an important health promotion campaign. As poverty is a major factor in determining the level of health that people can achieve, policies and actions that help to reduce or eliminate poverty will improve health. It’s so well recognized and understood that the World Health Organization declared October 17 as World Poverty Day in an effort to focus attention globally on the issue of poverty. This day is intended to give people living in poverty an opportunity to speak and act on the problems emerging from poverty and destitution.

Understanding the connection between social factors, such as poverty and health, challenges us to think outside of the health care box. We tend to think of our heath care services as the critical intervention that determines whether we are sick or healthy. Yet, many people are unaware that illness, disease and injury start outside of the health care system. Our health is shaped by the conditions in which we live, the levels of education and income in our families, whether our neighbourhoods and workplaces are safe. Poor families are often trapped in low-income employment and living in unsafe neighbourhoods. They live without many of the essentials of life that many of us may take for granted.

Seeing how poverty directly impacts the health of individuals also allows us to see the important role of health in building healthier communities that step outside of the health care services “box.” When people are exposed to increased health risks because of poverty, or when we lose them to premature death or to chronic diseases, we lose valuable community assets that could have made important contributions to our local economies and to a rich and vibrant social fabric.

Finding ways to reduce poverty is a challenge, in part because it can become a vicious cycle. For example, we have many children in our region who live in poverty, who go to school hungry. The capacity of children to learn and acquire the education that would help them escape poverty in the future is compromised by the poverty they live under in the present.

So, while World Poverty Day doesn’t ask us to contribute from our wallets, it is looking to collect something different, something equally valuable: our time and attention. Each of us can ask ourselves, what can we do to help reduce and eliminate poverty in the communities we call home?

For more information please visit the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. This coalition consists of community and non-profit groups, faith groups, health organizations, First Nations and Aboriginal organizations, businesses, labour organizations, and social policy groups. They have 30 coalition members and 350 supporting organizations whose goal it is to work together for a poverty-free BC.

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Building healthier communities in our backyard

Thank you card

Our thank you card from the kids next door.

You never know when the opportunity to help build healthier communities is going to pop up. Sometimes these unexpected opportunities can have far reaching impacts.

Here at Northern Health’s Centre for Healthy Living office in Prince George, we recently experienced one of those unexpected moments. Our next door neighbour is the Aboriginal Choice School. One of the teachers approached us and asked if her class could pick the apples from the trees on our property so the class could make apple sauce. We gladly agreed - after all, Bear Aware keeps telling us to pick our fruit to prevent bears from being attracted to the ripe fruit trees. We certainly didn’t want any of us – or any of the kids – to be greeted by a bear one morning!

The kids came and had a fun time being outside and collecting the plentiful apples.

And then, we received the most lovely thank you card from the class with pictures of the children happily engaged in making and sampling their apple creations. You can’t help but smile back at all the lovely toothy grins.

Simple acts like this help create healthier communities in ways you may not even think! We contributed to a bear safe neighbourhood; we made good use of the fruit on our property; the children got exercise and time in the fresh air as they did the picking; the class was part of a as “close to the ground” eating experience as you can get; and they also learned about nutrition and cooking for themselves.

Last but not least, they had a positive and caring experience with an arm of Northern Health. Not bad for a simple “yes, you can pick our apples and save us the labour and save us from bears.”

What unexpected moments have you experienced that contributed to a healthier community for all of us?

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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Moving more: Demystifying the walking meeting

Walking meeting

Theresa (far right) with some of her population health teammates on a walking meeting.

Sometimes you do something because it works. After a while, you learn that there are theories, recommendations, and guidelines that tell you that you should do what you’ve already been doing. That’s what happened for Nancy Viney, Northern Health tobacco reduction coordinator, and me.

About a year ago, Nancy and I started walking together. We wanted to get some fresh air and to take some breaks away from our desks. As colleagues, Nancy and I also had to address some challenging work-related issues together. Unintentionally, we found that walking together seemed to help us think and problem solve together. So, the planning became easier and – oddly enough – the walking was less of a chore than if we had done it by ourselves.

More recently, we learned that those who sit more than six hours a day are sedentary. Between going to the gym, finding time for exercise at home, walking, gardening, and maintaining our houses, Nancy and I thought we were pretty active. However, we are sedentary. The culprit? Sitting all day at work.

Walking meetings – like Nancy and I enjoy – can be a useful way to get more activity into our day. More importantly, it breaks up how much we sit. The research behind walking meetings supports that they get us out of our chairs, can make us more creative, and can improve group dynamics.

The idea sounds simple: I know how to participate in a meeting and I know how to walk. How hard can it be to combine the two? However, walking meetings won’t work for everyone in every situation, but they do work for some in a variety of situations. They seem to work best for:

  • Networking meetings – are you just getting to know someone, or giving someone a less formal update?
  • Small groups – think how many people can walk side-by-side so that all can hear?
  • “Outside of the box” thinking – the environment change may be good for problem solving, brainstorming, team building, or planning.

And where you can’t make a walking meeting work, there are ways to still move more at work. Some situations where a walking meeting may not work include:

  • High traffic – the goal is to have everyone hear the discussion. (Option: find a quieter route.)
  • Poor weather – think about appropriate footwear and jackets, etc. This is important for preventing injuries. (Option: walk the hallways indoors.)
  • Formal meetings – if full minutes are required, this may not be the best option (though, you could audio record). (Option: build activity or standing breaks into the agenda.)
  • Is everyone in the group able to walk the terrain safely and comfortably? (Option: have a more traditional meeting with stretch breaks.)

Ultimately, every move counts when it comes to getting out of your work chair. For more guidelines on living a healthier life, visit our position papers.

Have you ever tried a walking meeting?

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love - teaching.

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