Healthy Living in the North

Northern balance

Young woman with two dogs in a forest

For Ashley, having access to nature just a few steps away in Prince George was crucial to finding a balance last year.

Last year was a busy time to say the least. For some reason, I thought that it would be a great idea to take a master’s program full time while working full time. I wouldn’t recommend it! That said, I know for a fact that if I lived anywhere other than northern B.C., this would have been not only difficult but totally impossible. Looking back on last year, because of the region where I lived, I actually led a seriously awesome lifestyle. One of the biggest pluses has been that when my brain was absolutely jam-packed with school lectures and work reports, I could walk to the end of my street and be in the calming stillness of nature surrounded by trees, birds, and a friendly neighbourhood moose or two.

In my six years in Prince George, I have never been as thankful to live here as I have in the past year. Getting this degree while working full time and maintaining a high level of mental wellness would not have been possible anywhere else. Some of the biggest factors that have made this possible for me include affordability, my minimal commute, and instant access to nature.

Two moose in a yard.

Occasionally, the chance to observe a moose or two would provide a well-needed study break for Ashley.

In the Lower Mainland or southern parts of B.C., there would be no way I could afford to pay for school without loans and with my full-time school and work schedule, it would be impossible to get from A to B on time. On top of this, I’d be crammed into a tiny apartment. The most important thing for me, however, has been the ability to get away from it all: to take my dog on daily walks in the bush and to be able to spend almost every weekend at a cabin, on a hiking trail, or on a ski slope or trail because it is all so close.

One thing I have learned in class is that your body takes an average of 14 minutes to adjust its frequency to its surroundings and that nature has a low, calming frequency. When pulling out my hair about research papers, exams, and statistics, the ability to calm my body’s frequency and clear my head with 14 minutes in nature has been a total lifesaver. When my “southern” friends ignorantly scoff at where I live, I simply ask them how renting, long commutes, and being broke while being trapped in the rat race is going for them. Then I tell them that I’m going to have a beer on my back deck, watch the moose in my backyard, and read a book in awesome tranquility.

Ashley Ellerbeck

About Ashley Ellerbeck

Ashley has been a recruiter for Northern Health since 2011 and absolutely loves her job and living in northern B.C. Ashley was born and raised in Salmon Arm and then obtained her undergraduate degree at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops before completing her master's degree at UNBC. When not travelling across Canada recruiting health care professionals, Ashley enjoys being outside, yoga, cooking, real estate, her amazing friends, and travelling the globe.


Make health fun in 2015

Two skiers on a chairlift on a ski hill.

Getting outside and trying new activities are two ways that Mandy plans to make health fun in 2015. How will you make health fun?

As 2014 comes to an end, many of us already have New Year’s resolutions dancing through our heads, wondering what commitments we will make to improve our health for 2015.

It seems as though exercising more, saving money, losing weight and quitting smoking are what most people hope to achieve for the upcoming year. The problem with resolutions is that 60% of adults make these promises each year but, of those, only about 40% will be successful. I admit that I have been guilty of this in the past: my commitment to run a half-marathon is going on six years and I don’t think this will be the year, either. So this year, I am taking a new approach: I am going to commit to having some fun in 2015!

Not “whoop it up and book a trip to Vegas” fun, but thinking of ways to improve my health with a focus on enjoyment at the same time. I am going to commit to:

  • Trying activities that are new to me. Zumba? Cross-country skiing? Geocaching? Yoga? Maybe I’ll find something I like and stick with it – and I have a better chance of accomplishing this if I bring a buddy with me!
  • Healthy meal planning. In the hustle and bustle of life, I often find it a struggle to make nutritious and delicious choices for my family at mealtimes and it’s not fun to be scrambling at the last minute. For 2015, I will focus more on meal preparation. I plan to enlist the help of my friends for new recipe ideas and my kids to help out in the kitchen. Maybe I will fit in a few potlucks and dinners with friends, too!
  • Getting outside more often. I really enjoy the outdoors and the fresh air and dose of vitamin D come as added bonuses. We have amazing natural environments in northern B.C. and four wonderful seasons. I will enjoy these with more snowshoeing, exploring new trails, playing soccer with my kids, bike riding, and going wherever my feet can take me! By committing to this at least a few times a week, I will also get in my recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week!

How will you make health fun in 2015?

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy is the Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health. She and her family moved from Manitoba to Prince George in 2013. Check back for more on Mandy soon!


Health: There’s an app for that

Nurse in a hallway holding a tablet computer.

Mobile health is creating many opportunities to use smart phones and online tools for health and wellness. With the increasing ease of sharing information, individuals need to exercise caution.

As I finish waiting in line to buy tickets for the show, I have already checked Rotten Tomatoes, read the synopsis, watched the trailer, and read user reviews. I’ve also updated my Facebook status and “checked in” at the movie theatre. Only two likes?! Maybe I should post a selfie? (#catchingaflick)

All of this information and interconnectivity is available to me at the touch of a button or a slide of a finger. These amazing devices make our lives easier and help us to communicate instantly with one another in ways that were not possible even 10 years ago. In my opinion, one of the most exciting prospects about all of this functionality in the palms of our hands is the advancement and increased access to health and wellness support, information, and tools.

A number of app designers have invested in mobile technology for wellness. You can get apps that track your mood, coach you in deep breathing, or can track your immunizations. Separately, YouTube and other social media channels are used by scholarly institutions, health authorities, and health professionals as a way of sharing wellness information that can be accessed in the privacy of your own home, from the bus, or wherever you have the desire (and the data plan) to access it.

Research is demonstrating some of the benefits of the emerging field of “mobile health.” For example, research is following individuals who are quitting smoking and receiving text message encouragements (visit for details), or setting people with specific medical conditions up with education and reminders through their mobile device.

In the north, where winter roads and lengthy distances can make travel difficult, technology is emerging with some exciting options for people to promote wellness and ownership of their health. Informally, communities of like-minded individuals are gathering on sites like Reddit and Pinterest to share wellness tips and information, as well as links to pertinent research or videos. However, users need to take caution.

Not all health information, sites, or sources are created equally. With the increasing ease of information sharing, it’s important for individuals to exercise caution until an app or information found on the Internet can be verified. For information to be trusted, it should come from a credible source, like a health authority. Check with your family doctor if you are unsure.

The future is bright with touch screens and I’m optimistic we’ll continue to see the benefits and development of this area of health services in the years to come.

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. He posts a monthly blog, "The Grizzly Truth," which aims to shed light on men's mental wellness. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.


I Boost Immunity Update

A group of nine nurses wear  I Boost Immunity t-shirts.

Nurses in Fort St. John “spread the good stuff!”

Three weeks ago, Northern Health participated in the launch of Immunize BC’s I Boost Immunity (IBI) campaign. As part of the campaign, nurses and support staff were equipped with IBI magnets and enthusiastically sported their IBI T-shirts in hopes of prompting conversation with clients and community members about this new web platform and its initiatives.

For those of you who haven’t heard about the campaign, it’s an innovative way for British Columbians who support vaccination to share evidence-based information through popular social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the IBI web page. The more articles and stories you share, the more points you earn, which can be traded in for cool IBI swag. The ultimate goal of this campaign is to give a voice to the silent majority of those who support immunizations with the hopes of increasing vaccine rates in the province.

Two nurses wearing I Boost Immunity t-shirts pose with biceps flexed.

Boosters in Smithers flex their immune muscles!

Many Northern Health staff members can still be seen wearing their IBI t-shirts at flu clinics today! To find your local flu clinic, visit Immunize BC. Stop by to get your flu shot, learn more about the campaign, and become a booster today to “start spreading the good stuff!”

Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.


Community Health Stars: Myles Mattila

A graphic that states, "Nominate a Community Health Star."

The Community Health Stars program aims to shine a light on northerners who are positively influencing health.

Biking, playing hockey, and hanging out with friends: standard fare for a 15-year-old male in northern B.C. Myles Mattila shares these interests, but it’s his other extracurricular hobby that makes him anything but your average teenager; in his spare time, Myles works to promote mental health in youth throughout the Prince George area.

Myles’s mental health work is directly connected to his love for hockey, exemplifying the impact that professional athletes can have as positive role models. A ninth-round draft pick of the Vancouver Giants in the 2014 WHL draft and a midget player in Prince George, Myles was inspired to begin working with after reading a newspaper article in the Vancouver Province. The article was about the two-year anniversary of Rick Rypien’s suicide, and the impact that the tragic loss had on his friend and Vancouver Canuck teammate, Kevin Bieksa. In the article, Bieksa talked about the Raise-it-4-Ryp Golf Tournament, a charity event that he hosts in honour of Rypien, which raised $23,000 dollars for

Myles wears a shirt, promoting the mental health site.

Myles promotes

“I related to the story,” said Myles of the Vancouver Province article, “because I had a teammate with mental health issues, and was unsure how to help. I came to the conclusion that my peers should have the resources they need to get help, regardless of the mental distress that they’re experiencing.” Having been exposed to, Myles would, like Bieksa, strap on a skate of a different kind – one that would help him cut through the stigma surrounding mental health issues in youth. provided an excellent starting point for Myles. The website – a partnership between Fraser Health, BC Mental Health & Substance Services, and the Provincial Health Services Authority – addresses mental health in a manner that is accessible for youth. It features a broad range of topics, including depression, mood and anxiety issues; coping with stress, alcohol and substance misuse; body image, eating disorders, and more. Offering a range of resources like quizzes, stories, tips, and helpful contact information, also has links for friends and family members of youth who are suffering from mental illness and would like to learn more.

Mental health is an often-overlooked health subject, affecting more people than you might think and, unlike many other health issues, there is a stigma surrounding the topic. In fact, according to the Canadian Medical Association, only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. A shocking number when considering that one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. Due to the stigma, two in three Canadians will suffer in silence and only one out of five children who require services will obtain them.

The importance of educating youth on mental health and wellness cannot be overstated. Mental health and substance use disorders are the primary health issues experienced by young people in their teens and early 20s. Additionally, 75% of mental health and substance use issues begin by the age of 24, often going unrecognized and untreated, which makes early identification vital to providing help.

Given the above statistics, you can imagine the tremendous challenges faced by youth looking for help. “There is stigma attached to youth,” said Myles, “and even worse is the stigma for a youth who also has mental illness. The belief can be that they are incapable of having insight into what they need so that then others speak for them without necessarily being their voice. While promoting, I have realized that talking is important for everyone to raise awareness about mental health. It makes it easier for everyone to open up and share their experiences when they are in need … breaking down the stigma of mental health, trying to make it an issue that everyone can talk about. ”

So, what is the message that Myles wants youth to take away from his presentations and the website? “…that they are not alone,” he said. “Many people struggle with mental illness. If they are struggling, they need to be aware that they have resources and contacts who can help them get through these difficult times.” He also recommends that anyone, youth or otherwise, who wants to champion the cause of mental health in youth can find promotional materials at

Northern Health’s Community Health Stars

Northern Health couldn’t be happier to have someone like Myles as a voice for youth and mental health in our region and our first Community Health Star. Community Health Stars is a new and ongoing program that shines the light on members of northern communities who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to spread the message of personal health and wellness. You can nominate a person who you feel would make a great candidate for Community Health Star at

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.


Helping or Harming:  Reflections from 20 years of being a Dietitian

A crowd of people attends a farmers' market

“Healthy” comes in all shapes and sizes.

Oh, the conviction of youth!  Long gone are the unshakable beliefs from my dietetic internship about how to define “healthy” and the importance of weight in preventing disease. Twenty years have passed and, in that time, I’ve worked in five different provinces with a variety of patients and partner organizations. For instance, young families; schools; clients living with diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and disordered eating; and seniors in care homes, all of whom came from very diverse backgrounds.  In nearly every case, health was defined, in part, by weight. Today, I question that belief. Why? Because I’ve seen so many instances where a subtle emphasis on weight has contributed to some harm.

I’ve learned that while weight is often one of the first lines of treatment when someone is diagnosed with a chronic disease, research tells us that less than one percent of people successfully keep weight off after four years, and usually regain the lost weight plus some. In the end, after treatment, people are at a higher weight and often feel bad about themselves. This can’t be good for health.  Does it make sense to promote a treatment that is doomed to fail?

The recommendation to lose weight perpetuates something called the “thin ideal” (believing that a slim body is the standard for beauty and health), which is based on an assumption that people defined as “overweight” (as per the problematic standard of BMI or body mass index) eat poorly, too often, and do not move enough. My twenty years of experience tell me that this is not the case. Rather, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and are supported by healthy and intuitive eating, active living, and positive self-esteem. Thus, a better plan is to focus on supporting everyone, no matter their size, to live well.

The “thin ideal” has normalized weight bias and stigma, where we live, work, play, and are cared for. What is weight bias and weight stigma?

  • Weight bias is a negative judgement of someone because of their weight, shape and/or size.
  • Weight stigma is what a person experiences when weight bias happens to them.

Weight bias and stigma can seem harmless and might even be done in the spirit of helpfulness, but it still hurts. Examples of weight stigma include:

  • Refusing to offer dessert to someone and/or questioning whether someone “needs” that serving of dessert because of their size.
  • Using headless images of “overweight” people or images of “overweight” people being sedentary in handouts and presentations.
  • Using the word “fat” as an insult instead of what it is, which is a physical description of body composition.
  • Assuming someone is unhealthy if “overweight” or healthy if “underweight” or “normal weight.”
  • Failing to offer healthy food at school because “we don’t have fat kids at our school” (yes, one school actually gave this as a reason why they didn’t need to follow the Guidelines for the Sale of Food and Beverages in BC Schools!).

Weight bias needs to stop.  It starts with us thinking about what our own biases and assumptions about weight might be (take the Weight Implicit Attitudes Test) and developing respect and empathy for people who are impacted by weight bias. Last week was Weight Stigma Awareness Week, but it’s an issue that we need to be aware of all year round. Learn more here.

Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!


World Breastfeeding Week

A mother breastfeeds her son.

World Breastfeeding Week (October 1-7, 2014) promotes the benefits of breastfeeding.

The slogan and theme for World Breastfeeding Week 2014 is “Breastfeeding: A Winning Goal – For Life!”

World Breastfeeding Week will run from October 1-7, 2014 to recognize the importance of breastfeeding and promote the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies, as well as its social and environmental benefits. This year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme asserts the importance of increasing and sustaining the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding: it is a vial Life-Saving Goal!

Breastfeeding is not always easy, but, with the right support, most women can have a successful experience. There are many breastfeeding supports and resources available to women and families. For instance:

To kick off the festivities in Prince George, breastfeeding families are invited to celebrate the 14th Annual Prince George Breastfeeding Challenge on October 4, 2014. The event is held annually around the world in hopes of setting a new international record for the most breastfeeding babies at one time. In Prince George, the event will be held in the main floor’s Auditorium in the Northern Interior Health Unit at 1444 Edmonton St. There will also be a second site this year at The Kids Good as New Sale in the Diocese Centre (Old O’Grady High School) at 6500 Southridge Ave. Registration begins at 10 a.m. with official latch-on time starting promptly at 11 a.m. The entire family is encouraged to attend this free, fun-filled event. Refreshments and cake will be provided.

Laura Ravlic

About Laura Ravlic

Laura is a public health nurse who works for the children and families Team in Prince George, BC. She has three energetic boys who keep her busy out in the community with their many activities, including bike riding, class outings and soccer, for which she is an assistant coach. She is also involved in the Baby Friendly Initiative which promotes a breastfeeding friendly environment.


Tales from the Man Cave: Knowledge versus “knowledge”

Are you using credible sources to create your knowledge?

Are you using credible sources to create your knowledge?

Knowledge is more accessible than ever. Between the internet and 24-hour news stations, we’re swamped with it. But there’s knowledge and then there’s “knowledge.” Let’s discuss the difference between the two, because separating them is vital to your health.

For me, knowledge is information gained through evidence-based research. This includes checking your sources and the sources of the people providing you with the information. That’s one of the reasons I follow the Northern Health position papers. Many heads have worked on them, combining research from a variety of credible sources.

“Knowledge,” on the other hand, is the 10-second sound bite. It’s the picture of a piece of fruit on Pinterest that comes with a quote like, “Seven strawberries a day cures the common cold” without offering a source. These more accurately align with Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” They may have portions of the truth or they might just feel like they could be the truth. But we weren’t we all taught from a very young age not to believe everything we’re told?

Between the knowledge and “knowledge,” I always choose the first, burying my head in books and listening to audio books, all by credible sources. And that’s the key isn’t it? It has to be credible.

Here are some tips that are based on sound research from credible sources to help you stay healthy in mind and body:

That’s just scratching the surface of the available knowledge that will help us stay healthy. We can’t fit all of it into our brains, but we have to make sure that what we do hold onto comes from a good place (as is the case with all of the links in the above health tips).

Good luck to you!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.


IMAGINE Grants profile: Kids Helping Kids

Children take part in an exercise at a Kids Helping Kids event.

Children take part in an exercise at a Kids Helping Kids event.

When two grade seven students at Immaculate Conception Elementary School in Prince George observed that many of their classmates were leading sedentary lifestyles, their principal challenged them to educate their peers to be more physically active. They responded by recruiting more students, Action Schools! B.C., the City of Prince George, and School District 57 to create “Kids Helping Kids” – an IMAGINE Grant funded program that promotes the immediate and future benefits of healthy eating and physical activity.

The growth of the program throughout School District 57 has been remarkable. “The first year was run as a pilot project with independent schools,” explained Sue McDonald, Coordinator with Kids Helping Kids. “Year two, the program was offered to approximately half of the schools in the area, and last year it was offered to all schools in the Prince George area.” According to McDonald, the next phase of Kids Helping Kids is to expand beyond Prince George with the intention to “firmly embed [healthy eating and physical activity] as part of each school’s culture, truly making a difference in the future.”

Students take leadership roles, teaching other students about the value of nutrition.

Students take leadership roles, teaching other students about the value of nutrition.

Along with the program’s expansion, Kids Helping Kids is unique because of its peer-to-peer emphasis that teaches students life-long leadership skills. “…I am so thankful to have been in a leadership role,” said David, a School District 57 student and Kids Helping Kids participant, “teaching younger students and making a difference in their lives.”

“I went from a 15-year-old boy who could barely run a kilometre to a 17-year-old who is healthy, happy, and physically fit,” David continued, describing the impact that the program has had on his life. “I learned keeping healthy isn’t just about being more physically active. It’s about eating properly and making sure you’re not having too many candies, not eating that box of cookies that you have in your cupboard. It is keeping yourself running around, playing games and having fun with what you do. [Taking part in the program] was a lot of work, but it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was also one of the hardest.”

Northern Health couldn’t be more proud of Kids Helping Kids and of children like David.

About the IMAGINE Grants

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants fund health promotion projects by community partners, including northern groups/organizations and schools or districts, to support the health and wellness of northerners where they live, work, learn, and play. Ideas for projects are inspired and guided by Northern Health’s Position Statements. We’re happy to introduce an ongoing series of blog posts that will highlight past recipients of IMAGINE Grants and share their great work with you!

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Project Assistant in Health Promotions. He started at Northern Health in October of 2013. Mike grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007, when he moved here to pursue a career in radio. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, watching sports, reading, and ice fishing. His favourite thing about the north is the slower pace of life and the fact that he no longer has to worry about traffic every morning.


IMAGINE: Legacy Grants – Deadline Extended to July 11

IMAGINE grantsLast month, we told you about the great opportunity to apply for an IMAGINE: Legacy Grant (see previous post). You have one more week to send us your applications – the deadline has been extended to Friday, July 11!

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for northern B.C. communities, schools, organizations and individuals of all ages to be inspired by the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and apply for funding towards a health promotion or disease/injury-prevention project that will help improve health through physical activity. Apply now! As a reminder, here are the details:

What are IMAGINE: Legacy Grants?
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage the positive impact of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in fostering a sustainable legacy of increased health and wellness for northern communities and their residents, which will last beyond the two-week event in Prince George and Northern B.C. – where they live, work, learn and play.

Types of IMAGINE: Legacy Grants available:
In the spirit of the 2015 Canada Winter Games, we are asking for health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects with a focus on physical activity that may also include other key health promotion goals including: injury prevention, tobacco-free communities, healthy eating (HE), active living (AL), HEAL for Your Heart, prevention of problematic substance use, HIV prevention, harm reduction and chronic disease prevention.  For more information, please visit our IMAGINE Grants site.

The grants fund health promotion or disease or injury prevention projects that:

  • Focus on physical activity and at least one other key health promotion goal – considering the upcoming 2015 Canada Winter Games and how the Games can be leveraged to inspire community health
  • Last – your project has a good chance of living on after the funding ends
  • Make a difference – your project will broadly impact community in a positive way
  • Reduce health inequities – your project will help support those who are disadvantaged or marginalized
  • Build relationships – your project will help people connect to each other and their community and share successes
  • Support collaboration & partnerships – your project will encourage diverse groups to work together toward a common goal
  • Improve health – your project will reduce the risks and impacts of chronic illnesses and injuries

Deadline for applications has been extended to July 11, 2014. Apply now!

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) and moderates all comments for the NH blog. When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.