Healthy Living in the North

Taking steps to improve air quality – it all adds up!

As part of our clean air contest, we asked for photos showing why clean air is important to you. Here's a beautiful blue mountain sky that one participant submitted!

As part of our clean air contest, we asked for photos showing why clean air is important to you. Here’s a beautiful blue mountain sky that one participant submitted!

Our clean air contest is nearly done (there’s still time to enter!) and, above all else, one thing is clear: northerners are passionate about air quality!

There’s still time to enter the contest. To help inspire you, here are just a few of the entries we’ve received when we asked what steps you take to reduce the amount of smoke or pollution you or your family create!

For many people, a desire to reduce smoke and pollution has changed the way they use their vehicle:

  • Many of you shared that you walk or bike instead of driving when possible. In Prince George, one participant shared that this can have a double healthy impact: “I walk to work so I get exercise and I help reduce emissions.”
  • In Burns Lake, another shared: “We reduce pollution by trying our best to carpool, as we live in a rural area, and limit our trips to and from town.”
  • In the northwest, there were a few different travel tips, including: “Walk to work … maintain our vehicles with up to date oil and air filter changes … we don’t idle our vehicles for extended periods of time.”
  • Vehicle maintenance was important in Chetwynd, too, with one person sharing that “We clean our vehicles weekly to wash off the salt and road dirt.”

Some people have taken steps to improve air quality in their home, including:

  • Practicing safe wood burning (“We only burn seasoned dry wood in our woodstove.”) or looking into alternatives to heating with wood (“Not using our fireplace other than in emergency situations such as power outages.”)
  • Some of you prefer the coziness of sweaters! (“Although we have electric heat as opposed to gas or fire, we still layer up with socks, slippers, and other warm clothes before turning the heat up.”)
  • Many of you appreciated the role of indoor and outdoor plants (“We have indoor plants and try to cultivate bee-friendly plants outdoors.”) and shared that keeping your home clean and free of allergens and dust helped you improve air quality there.

It was also wonderful to read about so many people who have quit smoking and who mentioned air quality as one of the reasons that ultimately influenced their decision to quit! If you need support to quit smoking, visit QuitNow.ca. Learn more about the benefits of quitting elsewhere on the blog.

We received so many great tips. I’m excited to keep sharing them so please keep them coming! Submit your stories and tips for your chance to win a great prize!

Improving air quality involves many different people and sectors but remember, it all adds up!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Is distracted driving really only about cellphones?

When I heard of the new distracted driving fines increasing, I have to admit, I was pleased. When I am on the road, I see countless people texting or talking on cellphones and I feel a little nervous driving alongside them.

When I think of distracted driving, I think cellphones. I think of that phone call I have been waiting for that happens to come in as I am driving home. I think of the buzz of a text tempting me to just take a peek while the red light seems to go on and on.

What I didn’t really consider is the passing of water bottles to the backseat because my children are acting like they have been days without water as a distraction. I did not consider the radio surfing to find the right song a distraction. These all take my eyes off the road and my mind away from driving, even for a few precious and seemingly harmless seconds. Although the actual law is for handheld electronic devices, when it comes to preventing injury and death, distracted driving is anything that distracts you from driving, period.

Cellphones are the most common distraction for drivers and are thought to be the cause of high numbers of car crashes and fatalities in recent years. In fact, in 2011, distracted driving caused more car crash fatalities in B.C. than impaired driving. We have good evidence that cellphones and driving do not mix, but what about other distractions? It’s curious that I had only framed distracted driving around cellphones. I am sure I am not the only one.

I am not saying that it is impossible to change the radio station while waiting patiently for the light to change. What I am saying is that maybe we should be looking at everything that distracts us while we navigate a 1500 kg complex machine while moving at speeds up to 120 km/hr with our loved ones beside us. When I first earned my licence, I remember feeling humbled in my responsibility to navigate my car in complex scenarios and to keep myself and those around me safe in potentially dangerous situations. With so many years of driving under my belt, I am a confident driver but, dare I say, a bit lacking in remembering my responsibility as a driver to stay focused and attentive.

This summer while I am driving out to the lake, I will enjoy the sunshine and the songs on the radio about summer, but will commit to being more attentive than I have as of late. I will continue to not let a cellphone distract me, and will also plan ahead to ensure that other people or circumstances will not take my focus away from the road.

Join me in making this commitment to not get distracted while driving and keep our loved ones safe this summer!

 

Distracted driving in B.C. (ICBC)

Distracted driving in B.C. (infographic) ICBC

Natasha Thorne

About Natasha Thorne

After many years in southern B.C., Natasha was drawn back to her hometown of Prince George in 2006 by the lure of extended family, sub-boreal forests, and raising her babes exploring the backwoods of her own childhood. Whether nose in a book or in real life, Natasha is an aspiring world traveller planning overseas vacations so she and her husband can give their two children a wider perspective of living in today's global community. As the full time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention for Northern Health, Natasha is committed to the north and is passionate about supporting the health and well-being of northerners.

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Cars and bikes and joggers, oh my!

Dog sitting on road

Our long summer evenings provide a great chance for all of us (including our four-legged friends!) to get outside! Walkers, joggers, cyclists, drivers, and others are all road users and we all have a responsibility to keep our roadways safe!

Summer is in full swing and I am headed outside every chance I get. With our long summer days, I spend a little longer out walking the dog in the evenings and my kids are constantly asking if we can get out and ride our bikes in the neighborhood or, better yet, on the local trails.

I admit, when I am driving home from work, I sometimes do not give much thought to road safety. Yes, I pay attention to the road, drive the speed limit, and slow down for playground zones, but otherwise I am just enjoying the warm sunshine filtering through my sunroof as I drive along, feeling safe and enclosed in my car.

When I’m walking the dog with a couple of children who are blissfully unaware of potential hazards, though, I find myself acutely aware of road safety. I keep an ear open for an approaching car and am checking each driveway to ensure there is no one about to back out. People who walk, jog, and ride their bikes are road users. Vulnerable road users. Even people who ride motorcycles are considered vulnerable because they do not have an enclosed vehicle for protection. In Northern Health, people who ride motorcycles and those who choose to walk are at the most risk for hospitalization or even death in the event of a crash with a vehicle.

I learned several interesting facts in the Provincial Medical Health Officer’s report: Where the Rubber Meets the Road.

Did you know?

  • A person walking has a 90% chance of surviving a crash with a car if the car is driving 30 km/hr.
  • A person walking has a 20% chance of surviving a crash with a car if the car is driving 50 km/hr.
  • Children who are struck by a car were most often not playing in the street and were usually struck mid-block.
  • Older adults walking our roadways are the most vulnerable and have the highest rates of injury of all age groups.

Walking, cycling, and jogging along our northern roads is part of the reason we all love to live in the North. We love to get outside and enjoy the long summer days with our friends (and good old dogs!). All of us in our many roles as road users have a responsibility to keep our roadways safe.

Keep in mind:

  • Older adults may need a little more time than the crosswalk light provides.
  • Playground speed limits save lives. Slow to 30 km/hr or slower between dawn and dusk.
  • Families may be out walking so take the time to double check before backing down the driveway.

Together we can all have a fun and safe summer in the great outdoors!

More information

Natasha Thorne

About Natasha Thorne

After many years in southern B.C., Natasha was drawn back to her hometown of Prince George in 2006 by the lure of extended family, sub-boreal forests, and raising her babes exploring the backwoods of her own childhood. Whether nose in a book or in real life, Natasha is an aspiring world traveller planning overseas vacations so she and her husband can give their two children a wider perspective of living in today's global community. As the full time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention for Northern Health, Natasha is committed to the north and is passionate about supporting the health and well-being of northerners.

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Tales from the Man Cave: It’s time to slow things down!

Winter road in northern B.C.

It has been a wild winter in northern B.C.! Snow, rain, ice pellets, beautiful sunshine, bitter cold, and more – sometimes in the same week! With so many different conditions changing so quickly, it is important to match your speed to the road conditions! (Picture by Northern Health staff member Shellie O’Brien)

Lately, I’ve noticed that despite the snow and ice we’ve been seeing across the north, people are still driving too fast! It’s time to slow down!

Two years ago on the way to my son’s birthday lunch downtown, I was forced off of the road by two logging trucks. I was behind one of the trucks when the other decided to overtake me on a bend. That truck caused a white-out condition which caused me to lose control and go for a serious spin. I had to write off my van.

Amazingly, the truck drivers were so pressed for time that they never even acknowledged my dilemma and just kept going.

I can tell you that for me and my daughter, this was a very distressing event. I also remember that the slide really felt like it was in slow motion. All we could do was look at each other and pray. Luckily we came to a halt on the centre of the road several metres downhill and walked away from it.

Judging by the speed of the vehicles whizzing past me on icy roads, it seems like we are a people of faith – we really must believe in the ability of our tires to work miracles.

We keep being told to reduce our speed and that speed kills, but no one seems to be listening. Well, perhaps we listen for a week but then it’s rush here and rush there again, with our speed gradually creeping up.

Of course, as the saying goes, I am probably preaching to the choir but sometimes even the choir needs a reminder to stay in tune.

Please keep an eye on your speed to match road conditions. The vehicles in ditches should serve as reminders that the roads are not that good and that our tires may not be the only factor!

Slow down, won’t you! It’s a short life as it is.

Find more winter driving tips at WorkSafeBC.

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.

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A safe Halloween is a happy Halloween

Two children wearing costumes trick-or-treating in the snow.

Decorations, costumes, and treats can make for lots of distractions on Halloween. Following a few simple safety tips will ensure a happy Halloween for everyone!

Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat!

Remember when you were a kid and the excitement you felt as Halloween approached? It was such an exciting time: planning your costume, carving pumpkins, decorating the house, attending Halloween parties, trick-or-treating, and counting your loot once you returned home!

As a kid, I couldn’t wait to go out trick-or-treating; I wanted to start as soon as school was out and go until I dropped. The most exciting time was when it became dark; I was so scared to walk up to that haunted house with the graveyard in the front and the scarecrow next to the door! Could I build up the nerve to stand next to that goblin or witch and knock? I had to, of course, because everyone knew that the best treats were at the scariest houses.

Halloween is a fun and exciting time, but children become distracted with treats and costumes and safety rules are easily forgotten. These distractions increase a child’s chances of being struck by a vehicle and this makes for one unhappy Halloween.

Check out these simple safety tips for a happy Halloween:

  • Children under the age of nine should be accompanied by an adult or responsible older child.
  • Teach your child to stop at the curb, look left, look right, and look left again as well as to listen for oncoming traffic.
  • Select costumes with bright colours. Increase your child’s visibility using lights and reflective material. Bring a flashlight and choose face paint over a mask.
  • Always cross streets at crosswalks, street corners, or intersections. It is never safe to cross between parked cars or other obstacles.
  • Stay on the sidewalk when walking from house to house. If there is no sidewalk, walk beside the road, facing traffic. Trick-or-treat on one side of the street.
  • Drive slowly; there are more children on the streets.
  • Watch out for kids!
  • Reduce distractions such as cell phones and loud music and stay alert.

For more on Halloween safety visit:

Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie is an injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health’s population health team with a passion for health and wellness. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found on her rural property with her family of happy, healthy huskies.

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