Healthy Living in the North

Just stop and play

Mother and child walking in forest

“Outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience, and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.”

With our busy lives and commitments to our children to be sure their everyday needs are met, we often forget to just stop and play with our children.

Today is a chance for us to look at the benefits of outdoor play. I want to encourage all caregivers to connect with their children outside, no matter what the weather forecast says! If it’s raining, put on your rubber boots and play in the rain and splash in the puddles. If the sun is poking through, slap on the sunscreen and go outside and play.

Encourage fun, self-directed, free-range play!

Today, children are often scheduled with structured activities such as hockey and soccer practices and piano lessons. Equally important to these scheduled opportunities is the free time for children to dream and explore their own limits. This outdoor active time builds confidence, autonomy and resilience and helps children develop skills and solve problems while giving them the opportunity to learn their own interests and limits.

Play – how much is the right amount?

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend 180 minutes (3 hours) of daily physical activity for children ages 3-4 at any level of intensity. The guidelines then change for children ages 5 and up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous play per day.

Unfortunately, only 14% of children are meeting these guidelines. This drops to only 5% who are meeting the guidelines for children aged 12-17.

How to play?

Reduce screen time. Unplug and play. Make playing and exploring our neighbourhoods the reward rather than more screen time. Let’s embrace the beauty of living in the north! Everything is so accessible and nature is all around us. And it’s free! This may mean letting the child take the lead. You may get a glimpse into what the world looks like through your child’s eyes: spending time bent over exploring the colour in the rocks or examining pussy willows that you revisit later as they become leaves throughout the spring.

The benefits of play are across the board

The most obvious is that it is fun, but play also helps release tension, develops imagination, and allows for problem-solving and mastering new concepts. Play builds self-esteem, leadership skills, and reduces anxiety. Playing socially builds on co-operation and sharing as well as increases our children’s ability to resolve conflict. Outdoor play helps with gross motor skills, which build strong hearts, muscles and bones. Being active everyday as a child helps develop a lifelong habit of daily exercise as an adult.

Finally, be a good role model. Live an active life and rediscover the fun and freedom of outside play. While encouraging the whole family to “wear the gear,” wear your helmet when biking or skateboarding together. Turn your cell off. Make play a priority. Set aside time every day for free play and a chance to connect and have fun with your child today.

Reflect back to your own childhood playtime. I want to encourage everyone to build those same quality experiences for our children today! Let’s get everyone outside and active, having fun while promoting safe, active outdoor play.

Sandra Sasaki

About Sandra Sasaki

Sandra is the Children’s First Manager. In this role, she supports local committees and groups in Prince George, Quesnel, the Robson Valley and Mackenzie to work together to assess, identify and plan for the unique needs of young children. Sandra has lived and worked most of her life in Prince George where she and her husband are active members of the community. She enjoys weightlifting and working out at the gym, painting, skiing, camping, and fishing. Most of all, she enjoys spending time with her family as she is the proud mother of three daughters and a grandmother of seven.


Go with the flow!

Boy with toy bow and arrow

When we were young, imaginative play could transport us to faraway lands! When’s the last time your leisure activities have had that effect on you?

In the past, I’ve written about tobacco reduction and tobacco free sports. However, this time I’m going back to my old recreation therapist days to talk about “going with the flow.”

Let me start by telling you a little story:

When I was a young boy, my friends and I had great imaginations. We spent hours in the woods, having grand adventures! Sticks became swords, and danger lurked behind every tree. Dragons and thieves ran amok, but they were no match for us, the brave knights of the realm.

Back then, we went wherever our minds would take us. The outside world faded away as our imaginary world took over. We became so involved in our games that we would be oblivious to people around us, especially adults who had no place in our kingdoms.

Often, we would forget the time and come home late for dinner, much to the dismay of our mothers. Not that it really bothered us that much. After all, great knights on an epic quest shouldn’t have to stop having fun because of a little thing called dinner!

So what do knights, dragons, and kingdoms have to do with leisure? To an adult, probably not much, unless you’re into Dungeons & Dragons. However, what’s important is the idea that leisure activities you take part in should enable you to become totally absorbed in the experience.

Now, about going with the flow.

Meaningful leisure experiences can result your mind entering what has be described as a state of “flow.” The concept of flow was developed by a psychologist named Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He described it as a rare state of consciousness where you pay complete attention to what you’re doing and forget about everything else.

This state of flow is characterized by a few things, such as:

  • Losing complete track of time.
  • Becoming so involved in what we’re doing that the outside world fades away.
  • Experiencing enough of a challenge to keep us completely involved and interested in the activity.

Getting into a state of flow can do wonders for your mental and physical health. Flow can help deal with the stressors that we all experience on a daily basis. It takes us to a place where you can just be in the moment. Entering a state of flow silences the noise of the outside world.

Sometimes, getting into a state of flow takes a bit of effort. However, it can be helpful to look at your past. Can you remember a time when you experienced the sensation of flow?

  • What were you doing?
  • How did you feel?
  • Did the experience have a positive effect on your emotional state?
  • Is this something you could do now?
  • Is there another activity that could result in the same sensation?

I wanted to talk about the idea of flow because this time of year can be very stressful. Christmas activities fill our calendars and presents need to be bought. Every now and then, we feel just as busy and tired as Santa’s elves. If there’s a time where we could use a bit of flow now and then, this can be it!

Just remember, there are, of course, times when you need to be paying attention to what is happening around you.

However, in those moments where you can get into a state of flow, go with it!

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play -Heraclitus (Greek Philosopher)

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.


Foodie Friday: Sports drinks: To drink or not to drink?

Pitcher of homemade sports drink.

Sports drinks are only recommended for very specific purposes. When you are being active this year, go with water! If your situation requires a sports drink, try making your own with Rebecca’s recipe!

As the days warm and the trees turn green, more and more of us are starting our summer activities. For some of us, that includes things like running, cycling, soccer, football, and other sports. I also see more people drinking sports drinks at this time of year. When should we drink these? When should we not?

The primary purpose of sports drinks is to replace water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium) that are lost when we exercise vigorously for a prolonged length of time. You don’t need a sports drink unless you are a heavy sweater or you are working out for a long time in the heat. Think marathon runner or construction worker on a hot roof all day!

So what should you drink after being active this spring or summer? Water is the best choice!

What’s wrong with sports drinks? They contain a lot of sugar and salt! Powerade® and Gatorade® contain approximately 14 tsp of sugar in their regular 946 ml containers and approximately 400 mg of salt. That’s a lot of extra calories and salt that you don’t need.

So what should we do when engaging in sports? First, drink water before you start! Afterwards, have a snack with some carbs and protein to refuel and repair your muscles. Try some chocolate milk, peanut butter and a banana, or some tuna and crackers.

If you’re going to use sports drinks for vigorous exercise or during periods when you are feeling unwell, try making your own sports drinks!

Nancy Clark’s Homemade Sports Drink

Recipe courtesy of Nancy Clark, RD

Yield: 1 quart (approximately 1 litre)


  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • ¼ cup orange juice (not concentrate) plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 ½ cups cold water


  1. In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water.
  2. Add the juice and the remaining water; chill.
Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.


An autumn walk

dog; autumn; walk

Nature’s show to entertain us on our walks.

October is my favourite month of the year – hands down. It may have something to do with it being my birthday month, but I think it’s more about the fall colours, sweaters and boots coming out of the closet, and the furnace having kicked in. It gives me a really cozy feeling inside and I just love it!

I recently got a dog (“Abby”) and this has made me really appreciate October even more – something I didn’t think was really possible!

As a responsibility to Abby, I make an effort to walk her twice a day. Yes, it is hard to keep this commitment to her, but I prioritize it and they may not always be the best walks, but she is strapped to a leash twice each day and taken off the property. As we are losing daylight, this is becoming harder, too, but we persevere. Some days, we are able to find or make time for a good long walk and a way to take it onto the local trails. It’s more exciting for both of us when we can make this happen.

autumn; landscape

Event he best high-definition TV can’t fully capture the feeling of autumn!

Initially, the walks were about keeping her happy, entertained, and exercised. The surprising by-product is that I am happier and exercised, too. The only thing that is suffering is my PVR because I don’t have as much time to watch TV in the evenings any more (oh, darn!). If I’m on dog-walking duty, not a day goes by that I don’t get at least 10,000 steps in. Moreover, I’m getting the chance to really appreciate the full beauty of fall.

I am not suggesting that everyone needs a dog to be more active because owning any pet is a huge responsibility. But, what about grabbing a non-furry friend for a walk? Nature is giving us a spectacular show at this time of the year. Even the best high-definition TV can’t capture the full show. And, while looking at the amazing colours around us, you may not notice that your feet are hitting the pavement a little more than usual.

What is your favourite thing about fall?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


NH Stories: Fundraising for Terry Fox in northern BC

Jim Terrion is a housekeeper at the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George. In this video, he (with the assistance of a translator) shares his story of fundraising for the Terry Fox Foundation. As of the 2014 Terry Fox Run, Jim has surpassed his goal for this year ($610,000) and is well on his way towards his goal of $1 million.

Do you know of an NH staff member who has gone above and beyond? Share your story with us in the comments below.

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


Tales from the Man Cave: Every move counts

A treadmill acting as a clothes hanger is unplugged and unused.

The unplugged treadmill, gathering clothes, a blanket, and dust.

Our modern world is heavily weighted against movement and exercise. It’s so bad that terms like sitting disease are now a normal part of conversation.

My level of activity decreased significantly after I got my first car. Before that time, I either walked to where I was going or, at the very least, walked to the bus stop. Eventually, I began to cycle to work. Going into Glasgow and getting to the hospital (where I worked at the time) meant taking two or three separate buses. The distance cycled was around 15 miles, there and back. None of this was done out of a sense of maintaining my well-being, but rather out of necessity. The positive side effect was that I was very healthy, in spite of my addiction to tobacco, which has since been kicked.

Now, if I walk, it is a planned activity. I suspect that this is the case for most people. Winter weather tends to discourage me from walking – too cold! Unfortunately, I also find that when I plan to walk, it often falls off my agenda. I even have a treadmill that doesn’t get enough action. And before you ask: yes, I do know better.

The trouble seems to be that exercise is difficult to schedule into our busy lives, despite how vital it is to our health. Exercise does more than just help the body, it has also been shown to help fight depression and releases chemicals that make us feel good. Great for fighting the winter blues!

One tip that I find helpful: make activity part of what you’re already doing so that it works within your schedule. For instance, yard work and household chores can be done quickly to simulate exercise, parking the car a distance from your destination can help you log some extra steps, and getting together with a few friends for an indoor winter walk can help make activity more convenient.

The evidence shows that adults need 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, but don’t just play the numbers game as that can be discouraging. Instead, try to start moving slowly and then keep moving every day. If you are stuck in the office, or behind the wheel and don’t think you can do it, try standing up (or pulling over) and walking about for a few moments every hour. Before long, you’ll start feeling better and you’ll want to be moving more. Remember, every move counts.

What tips do you have sticking to an active schedule? How do you stay active around the office?

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.


Infographic: Every move counts!

It’s August – the sun is out, the weather is warm, and the days are longer. What better time to find ways to fit physical activity into your day?

Physical activity is about moving your body in a way that feels good for you today. How we move our bodies and how much we move our bodies can contribute to our health today and in the future. Check out our infographic below to learn about moving your body for your health today!

infographic, physical activity

Move for your health!

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


Raise Children’s Grade, Bike to Work This Week!

A man rides his bike to work.

Embed activity into your day by biking to work!

You may have read about, or heard of, the recently published report which graded children around the world on their health in regards to physical activity.

Canadian children scored a D-.

But, you may be thinking, Canadians are doers! The more we can cross off the list, in the shortest amount of time, the better. This may sound like a recipe for energetic activity, but what it’s actually resulted in is a “culture of convenience.” Time is short, but my list is not.

Most of us drive everywhere to get everything on our list completed, even if being physically active happens to be on that list. We take a car, a truck, or a bus, so we can tweet and Facebook each other while we’re getting to where we need to go. Worse yet, this behaviour, this “culture of convenience,” is rubbing off on the children in our community, and we haven’t even added video games to the mix.

Don’t have kids? Well, imagine the average day for many Canadians. You wake up, go through your normal morning routine, then you get in a vehicle. You sit on your way to work; when you get there, you may be sitting for your entire work day before sitting in your car the whole way home again. Combine that with sitting for dinner, throw in a bit of evening television (which you’re sitting for) and voila! A sedentary lifestyle is born. It may feel busy, but that “busyness” isn’t physical.

Now consider this. Those who live a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease in their lives. On top of that, sitting for more than six hours a day can reduce your lifespan by as much as five years.

Studies show that being active every day is needed for health benefits. How often do you think this happens when it is just another item on a list?  It must be a regular part of our daily lives; it’s got to be normal.

So, on that note, take the steps to move more in your daily routine. The time spent on your way to and from work is a great time to introduce some physical activity to your day, and when better to start than on May 26th with Bike to Work Week! Across all of B.C., people will ditch their car keys in favour of bike helmets, improving their lifestyle in the process. Getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day can move you a long way towards reducing the risk of chronic disease and you’ll become a positive role model for the children in our community.

Let’s shoot for an A the next time our kids’ physical activity is graded in Canada!


Doug Quibell

About Doug Quibell

Doug Quibell is the northwest manager of public health protection, and the lead on Northern Health’s partnering for healthy communities approach. He first joined Northern Health in 1995. After stints in the Middle East and in Ontario, he and his family recently returned to the mountains and ocean they call home in Terrace. He stays active trying to get his daughter excited about skiing Shames Mountain and sailing off of Prince Rupert.


NH employees team up and earn $500 for the Spirit of the North Foundation

Claire and Angela

NH team members, Claire Radcliffe and Angela Wheeler.

On Sunday, July 15, 2012, Northern Health staff Claire Radcliffe and Angela Wheeler, both from Vanderhoof, participated in the Pomeroy Inn and Suites Inc. Prince George Triathlon held at West Lake Provincial Park. Entered as a two person team in the Olympic-distance triathlon which involved a 1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, and 10 km run, Radcliffe churned up a froth in the calm West Lake waters, then wound her way up and down a very challenging bike course while Wheeler warmed up to bring it all home on the hilly run portion.

Before the Prince George event, Radcliffe had participated in five previous triathlon events, but recently has been suffering from a running-related injury in the backside which officially announced itself as a problem not be ignored in a Terrace triathlon she completed just the previous weekend. Prior to the injury in the Terrace tri, Radcliffe had already signed up for the Prince George event and would face losing out on the race fees and all the fun. As Radcliffe felt she could still swim and bike, a solution was found: teaming up with Angela Wheeler, who, for several years, has been a willing and eager runner who participates in several races each year, ranging from trail runs to half-marathon road races.

For Radcliffe, the Olympic-distance event meant racing a distance twice as far as she had ever done before. For Wheeler, it was another run but in a fresh context of a triathlon.

The team woke up to freshly rained upon highways under black clouds to drive the hour into West Lake. Just over three hours after the 9 a.m. race start, a pleasantly tired and smiling Radcliffe and Wheeler were walking up to the post-race BBQ when the race organizer called them over. To their surprise, it turned out Radcliffe and Wheeler, who on a whim chose to enter the corporate challenge category as a Northern Health team, ended up earning the sole prize of a $500 dollar donation towards a charity of their choice.

And so, because Radcliffe didn’t let one of life’s “pains in the butt” prevent her from participating in an active life, and because Angela Wheeler was doing what a friend and coworker does, helping out in any way she can, the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation will receive the definitely not-insignificant cash donation.

How did Radcliffe feel about winning the donation opportunity?  She said she’s “excited and very pleased…tickled pink in fact!” And Wheeler said, “Take part in some good fun and great exercise and win money for a good cause while doing it? Sign me up for next year!

Greg Tone

About Greg Tone

Greg began working for the former version of Northern Health in 1999 in the field of environmental health where he continues to work today, except for a three year gap doing the same job in the Yukon. His favourite activity in the summer is to swim in the local lakes and rivers with the kids, and in the winter to go tobogganing and cross-country skiing – especially now that the kids (now 10 and 7) are old enough that they cannot convince him that they need to be pulled back up! Greg is always willing to try a new sport, such as biathlon or triathlon, and when relaxing he likes to read an old discarded paperback picked up for a quarter from the local library, particularly when he knows he should be doing the dishes.


Man up: Learning to take our own advice

Steve and his family

Steve, pictured here with his wife Shelley and children Michael and Alyson, was a torch bearer for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Given my recent entry into my forties, I like to think that 42 is the new 22. Well when 22 meets 42 on the soccer field, I’m not so sure. While I won’t go into the details of the clearly savage slide tackle targeted at me (in my opinion, anyway), I can tell you about what happened after. I remember people around me asking, “Are you hurt or are you injured?” – meaning if I merely “hurt,” then man up and get back out there. I didn’t go back in the game, but I did take two aspirin and head home, and not straight to the emergency room (which I know now was the wrong choice). But I mean, it was just a sprain, right?

So off to work on Monday. Much to my surprise, the interesting two-step stride I took down the hall to my office was not met with weekend warrior adulation, but rather with raised eyebrows and the repeated question of “why haven’t you gotten it checked out yet?”  So realizing the audience here was not my team, off I went, 24 hours later, to get the ankle checked.

Through our Northern Health men’s health consultations last fall, we learned that men in the north are raised in a culture where “living hard” is normalized from an early age. It’s ingrained in us to be tough and macho, and unfortunately this is leading to unnecessary illness, disease and early deaths in northern men. So yes, I should know better to take care of my body and my health.

But of course my self-diagnosis was just a sprain, and I figured I’d be back on my feet in no time. Well the doc entered the room, post X-ray, with a grin, and said, “You’ve done this before haven’t you?” I smiled a bit, telling him, “Yeah, both ankles, many times. Lots of sprains over the years, nothing ice and heat can’t take care of.” He nodded and told me that’s what he thought because it’s not a normal ankle anymore. Please note the smile disappeared from my face at this point.

He continued to tell me that there is evidence of two past fractures, numerous bone chips and lots of previous ligament and tendon damage in my ankle. In fact, the x-ray was hard to read because of all the junk floating around in there. He did agree with me though – it was a definite sprain this time!

Perhaps I should have taken the advice of the very organization I work for. I should’ve manned up and had some of those past ‘sprains’ checked out. Apparently I wasn’t merely hurt but I was truly injured….oops.

Have you ever had a moment of clarity when you realized you should “man up?”


Steve Raper

About Steve Raper

With nearly 10 years of experience, Steve is the Regional Director of Communications for Northern Health, where he leads marketing, communications, web and media relations activities. He has a business diploma from the College of New Caledonia, a BA from the University of Northern BC and a master’s degree in business administration from Royal Roads University. In his spare time, Steve volunteers on a number of boards, including Canadian Blood Services, Pacific Sport Northern BC and the Prince George Youth Soccer Association. To stay active, he enjoys camping, playing soccer and hockey, and coaching his children’s soccer teams.