Healthy Living in the North

Life: Don’t get left behind

Football player scoring touchdown

Group environments and team sports helped Dan to get active again. What gets you moving?

There are many risks in life that we cannot control, but there are some we can control.

It is a little sad that it took a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) to start that train rolling for me, but here it is. In 2007, I exhibited some troubling symptoms and had them extensively checked out. The end result was MS. I am one of the lucky ones, I guess, since there have been no issues for me since the original event. With the shock of the diagnosis, I started eating better and slowly regained my interest in exercise.

But then, a position change at work and the arrival of our first child began to keep me very busy and my renewed focus on my personal health was pushed to the back of the line. As this work stress and new family stress increased, I slipped back into poor eating habits. I justified these habits by saying that I had a lack of time to prepare healthy meals. Now, I can stand up and say that my name is Dan and I am a stress eater. In the blink of an eye, I was over 350 lbs and my body hurt. I couldn’t kneel down to play with my children or walk with my family without extreme effort.

Jump forward to a change in employer and a new, supportive environment for workplace health. I could feel my sense of control increasing. I wanted to get active again but I struggled with going to a gym – it was not working for me. It took me a long time to realize what type of exercise was a good fit for me. I thought back to my university days and to playing on the rugby team, which had eventually led to me joining a men’s rugby team and winning three provincial championships. Then it hit me: right from high school (Go Prince Rupert Rainmakers!), I had always excelled at team sports in group environments. That’s what I needed back in my life to motivate me: groups and social support!

Fast forward to group fitness classes. I joined a gym to test the waters. Some old injuries resurfaced and tried to demotivate me, telling me “don’t do it, just rest.” But the functional fitness classes worked for me. I found a home and, wouldn’t you know it, the old injuries that I had relied on to stop me from getting off of the couch disappeared. I can now walk, run, and play with my kids and it feels great!

All of the things that I did in life that appeared as work when I was not healthy became easy and fun again. The weight loss that I achieved was not a goal of mine but a side effect. My story reminds me that there are always life and work events that pop up to slow down or turn back the progress to our personal health, so roll with the punches and plan your next move. I want to be around for a long time, not only for me, but for my family.

For more information and resources for men’s health, visit Northern Health’s Northern BC Man Challenge.

Dan Bomford

About Dan Bomford

Dan finds motivation through the effort expended by others. Group style fitness fits him well, as indicated by a long history of involvement in team sports: basketball, rugby, baseball, and handball. What fits you best? Finding the perfect work-life balance takes time and often risk. Currently, Dan is focused on his personal health and the health of his children and family. Cooking healthy meals for kids aged 5 and 2 is one of the most difficult tasks for Dan these days.


Tales from the Man Cave: Laughter

Two men laughing.

Welshman Mike Kelly shares a laugh with Jim.

Who would have thought that laughing is good for your health? Well nowadays they say it is and there’s research to prove it.

I like to laugh. Actually, I need to laugh. Sometimes when I get together with friends, it can dissolve into silliness or go down the route towards toilet humour really fast. But it’s always a laugh and it can be really wonderful, even when it’s just us being silly. And laughter has all sorts of positive health benefits! Healthy Families BC calls it “one of the best energy boosters around” and the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre links laughter to reducing stress, building resilience, and decreasing symptoms of anxiety.

We have to remember, though, that there’s humour and laughter that’s healthy for everyone and laughter that isn’t healthy for everyone. I suspect the type that does you good does not involve poking fun at others.

This dark side of humour tends to uphold negative stereotypes and this should be avoided. Use humour that uplifts because then your humour will uplift you.

There are lots of funny things to say without offending others and laughter can help us get through tough times. Watch comedies and funny movies. Use puns. Laugh at yourself often but even then, only in a gentle way. Just get laughing to lower your blood pressure and get those lungs moving. You’ll be a happier and healthier man to be around – just look at the health benefits of laughter that the Mayo Clinic reports.

Being up on stage has taught me a lot about when laughter is healthy and when it’s not. I used to tell jokes about the Irish, Scots, and Welsh. People would come up to me and say that I was offending them with the jokes. This was obviously not healthy laughter for everyone. Now, I just tell silly jokes – some might call them stupid. Since making this switch, everyone’s been laughing and not a single person has approached me.

As I said, use humour that uplifts because then your humour will uplift you – and others.

Have a good week.

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.


Make more of Movember

Man wearing a safety vest and nicotine replacement patch working near train tracks.

Make the most out of Movember! Get a check-up, protect your assets, set a quit date, and get up and move!

It’s Movember again; a time for all clean-shaven men to put away the razor and embark on a hair-raising journey. Although the extra fuzz likely comes in handy in northern B.C. this time of year, let’s not forget that Movember is about more than just moustaches!

We know that men in the north aren’t living as long as men in other parts of Canada, and we know that they’re dying of causes that are – in many cases – preventable, such as heart disease, cancer, and injury. So this November, get a jump on the new year and make some resolutions to improve your health (if you’re a man) or the health of a man in your life! Here are some ideas to get you going: 

Get a check-up

Don’t wait until you’re already sick! Make Movember your annual reminder to go and visit your doctor. Not sure what you need to get checked out at your age? Check out our Men’s Health MANual online

Get up and move

Whether at home or at work, try to sit less and move more. Walking is the easiest way to get started, and requires the least amount of equipment. Take another guy with you, and help improve his health at the same time!

Set a quit date

There’s no better day to quit smoking than today! It’s the single best thing you can do to improve your health! If you’ve been thinking about quitting, but are looking for some help call HealthLinkBC at 8-1-1, or check out

Protect your assets

Seatbelts and helmets let you work and play hard, but most importantly they improve your chances of making it home to your families at the end of the day!

So this year when the ‘staches emerge let them inspire you to put your health at the top of your to-do list. Men’s health matters, because men matter!

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is the NH Men's Health Coordinator. Previous to this, she worked as the school nutrition lead for Northern Health’s population health department. Her passion for food and health promotion drew her to the nutrition field and she relocated to northern B.C. from the east coast. Although she has fully embraced northern living, she enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She stays active by training for triathlons, and is looking forward to this year’s community garden harvest – a personal experiment that is so far succeeding!


Tales from the Man Cave: “Man Maintenace,” because men need tune-ups too

A man is seeing his family physician.

Regular “man maintenance” can help you live a healthier life.

Every day, we seem to hear the same general suggestions about how to live healthy – don’t smoke, moderate your drinking, avoid drug use, eat healthy and live actively. But maybe, as we men age, we should add “get it checked out” and “talk to someone” to that list.

We think it’s common sense to see your family doctor if your health is distressing you, but common sense isn’t always common, especially when it comes to guys and their health. Remember, health is one of those things you might not think of until it’s too late. However, with a few well informed truths perhaps you can avoid some of the nasty issues that are out there, waiting in the wings.

“Getting it checked out.”

For young men, one step towards avoiding testicular cancer is a self-exam; however, your GP is your best bet if you aren’t sure and is definitely your next step if you think there may be an issue. As for us older fellas, in each successive decade of life there are other tests and checkups we should have done, like blood pressure, cholesterol, and the less pleasant prostate and colorectal screening. Once again, your GP is the best person to talk to about what’s right for you.

“Talk to someone.”

Stress is unavoidable in modern life – pressure at work, trouble with relationships, and our own expectations can all lead to increased levels of stress. What is a guy to do?

Well, let me suggest that any time is a good time to talk to someone about stress.

A few words with your significant other or a close friend may be all you need. However, if it persists or even worsens, then you may need to see a health care provider. Stress can affect your sleep, appetite, concentration, mood, and more.  These things can actually lead to the early development of disease and they are signs that it is time to see a professional. To say that managing stress is important is an understatement!

What are some things that can reduce stress and help us deal with it in healthy ways? That everyday advice we mentioned is a start: healthy diet, be physically active for 150 minutes a week, don’t smoke. Also, remember to be social, make sure you have a healthy work and life balance, get enough sleep, and practise relaxation. I find relaxation tapes help and information on mindfulness is plentiful on the web as well. All of these things will help you take small steps towards a healthier life.

What do you do to reduce stress in your life?

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.


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 Health Promotions and Communications officer 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 is learning to take advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her husband. She stays active with CrossFit and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


Men: why not nursing?

men, nursing, career

Nursing is a rewarding career for everyone!

In 2012 my partner and I made a major change in our lives: we moved 4000 kms from London, Ontario to Prince George, British Columbia. Sarah had just finished her Bachelor of Education at The University of Western Ontario (where I had finished a Bachelor of Arts degree one year earlier) and she was eager to start teaching. Knowing the difficulty of finding full-time employment as an elementary school teacher, we acknowledged the need to search for opportunities across the country. School District 57 was the first school board to interview Sarah for a full-time position. As luck would have it, she started her dream job in September 2012 as a grade one teacher at École Lac Des Bois in Prince George – and I tagged along with her.

Living in northern B.C. has been a motivating and transformative way to start life on our own, even though life is especially challenging in your 20s (as most 20-somethings will agree). Having left our family and friends in Ontario, we’ve had to fend for ourselves. Sarah has had to adjust to professional life and I have had to cope with the loss of my father and both my grandmothers. Still – the end result of moving to Prince George is that we have developed new strengths, new interests, new friends, and new goals.

Like many 20-somethings, Sarah and I have always wanted to build a rewarding and meaningful life. But a year ago, this desire forced me to face a problem: I needed to reinvent myself in Prince George in order to build the life I wanted. I had to balance the reality of needing an income with my desires to live a good life and to make the world a better place.

men, nursing, career

Normalizing a nursing career for men.

So I recently decided to work toward building the life I wanted by being more vulnerable and by using my strengths. I’ve always known that, for work, I wanted a vocation – not just employment. I want to go to work knowing that I’m uniquely fit for what I do, that my skills are truly needed, and that what I do matters. It’s important to me that my actions have an immediate and obvious consequence, that they help other people, and that they relieve suffering rather than contribute to it. If I had a choice, I’d prefer not to wear a suit – definitely not a tie – and I’d prefer to be on my feet rather than behind a desk. And frankly, if I can’t have the above, then I’d rather not work at all!

Fortunately, there are people that – every day – do the kind of work I desire. They’re called nurses. When I finally recognized it – when I truly appreciated the kind of work nurses do – I wanted to do it, too. And that’s how I decided, about a year ago, that I wanted to be a nurse.

Now – for those that know me – the reason I want to be a nurse is obvious. Yet most people ask me “why do you want to be a nurse? Why nursing?” I am tempted to answer their question with another question: why not nursing? Instead, I usually answer their sense of surprise with the truth.


I say that I want to be active and feel needed; I want to be on my feet; I want to help others, I want to solve problems and think critically, I want to be vulnerable and brave, I want to teach others, I want to promote health and well-being, I want to advocate for basic rights, and I want to be a lifelong learner.


If I can earn an income doing all of the above, then that’s great. That’s my reasoning – and I won’t apologize if it’s not profound enough for a culture still unaccustomed to male nurses.

Of course, like other males in nursing, the reason I’m asked so often about choosing nursing is simply because I’m a male. Unfortunately, men are still unusual in nursing. Most males do not seem to want to become nurses (they’re just not going to school for it). However, I have a hunch that most males never even realize that nursing is an option for them.

Speaking for my gender, the idea of nursing as a viable, rewarding, and respectable career for a man just does not occur to us (at least not early enough). Most of us are still inclined to think of nursing as a woman’s job, something a “real” man has no business doing, and that’s probably just another sad result of a culture that overinflates gender differences. Regardless, speaking for males generally, nursing is rarely (if at all) recommended to us by others. The few of us that do choose nursing are finding it on our own, and I think that’s a problem.

I am writing with the hope that we can change this, and change it quickly. For the same reasons that we need more female scientists, engineers, and architects, we need more male nurses.

So the next time you have the chance to offer some career advice to a male – especially an adolescent male – I am hoping you’ll ask them: why not nursing?

What are your thoughts about men in nursing? Share your comments with us below.

Andrew Gregory

About Andrew Gregory

Born and raised in London, Ontario, Andrew has lived in Prince George for two years, where he enjoys cross-country skiing, alpine skiing, hiking, and exploring the surrounding area. He is a vegetarian who loves cooking, reading, and learning. Andrew is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, and he is currently enrolled in the Northern Collaborative Baccalaureate Nursing Program offered by UNBC and CNC.


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.


The Grizzly Truth: Setting a Healthy Sleep Routine

Falling asleep with Netflix isn't a good idea.Happy summer everyone! First, I would like to thank Trent for doing some citation checks last month when I questioned who coined the quote I used as a leading statement in my last blog post. We may make you an honorary member of the Grizzly Truth Internet Sleuthing Department. ;)

I hope you are enjoying the added daylight hours and getting the most out of this time of year, whether that’s fishing, camping, hiking, or any important seasonal rituals you may have. See what I did there?

One drawback to the extra daytime hours is that it may interfere with our sleeping patterns. Sleep is something many of us have occasional difficultly with and research indicates this can impact our overall wellness. Studies have identified that difficulty with sleep is a common issue for people with mental health concerns, but recently it has been questioned whether the difficulty with sleep was one of the contributing factors for an illness or if the sleep problems emerged as part of the illness. Regardless, there is consensus that practicing sleep hygiene is beneficial to our health.

Now, this is something I have set some personal goals around because when you start to look into the tips and practices that are encouraged for healthy sleep habits, I recognize that I have some improvement to do. Areas that pose challenges for me are: having a soothing pre-sleep routine, avoiding night-time clock watching, and being conscientious of nighttime eating and snacking. I can think of a number of nights where I thought I would try to catch up on Game of Thrones right before bed and then found myself lying awake and cursing George R.R Martin and his fondness for killing off beloved characters. Having my phone and iPad close by while I am sleeping also creates issues as I hear my e-mail notification noise and inevitably make the mistake of “quickly checking my e-mail” before calling it a night.

In my research into this, I found a great article offering 12 tips for improving quality of sleep, from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Furthermore, there are some really great resources you can access for free on YouTube around progressive relaxation and guided imagery that help you relax and can become part of a pre-sleep routine (see some resources below). Other tips, like avoiding stimulants such as nicotine in cigarettes or coffee before bed, can cause more of a challenge for those of us with habits, but might give you some food for thought if you are thinking about making other lifestyle changes.

Do you have a pre-sleep routine, or do you have any practices around sleep hygiene that you’ve found particularly helpful? Please share in the comments below, and I hope that by next month we’ll all be feeling well rested and relaxed so we can enjoy our brief but beautiful northern summer!

More resources:

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.


Practising Safe Boating

Canoe fishing on a lakeOkay I’ll admit it. I like to have a beer now and again. Drinking is a part of a lot of our lives, but sometimes it’s just not a good idea.

Awhile back, my wife and I went canoeing on a popular lake north of town. It was a good day, clear and sunny. During our paddle around the lake we were almost capsized by a couple of guys in a power boat. We made it back to the beach safely but it was a close call.

When we got back on land we encountered the guys from the power boat. They were not “bad people.” They apologized for almost overturning us and offered us each a beer from a cooler between the seats. There were empties rattling around in the bottom of the boat and both looked to be a little bit drunk. Now these guys would probably not drive a car after drinking but they thought of going out in a boat as something different. It didn’t occur to them that impaired is impaired or that a boat is a motor vehicle.

Because of the work I do, I know that according to the Canadian Red Cross, about 200 people will die in boating accidents in Canada this year and that 25% of those will have alcohol in their blood. About 40% of all boating mishaps involve alcohol. Operating a vessel while under the influence is a Criminal Code offence. Drinking on a boat that does not have onboard living accommodations is an offence as well.

We all want to have a good time. Part of having a good time is getting home safe.

How are you and your family staying safe on the water this summer?


Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a tobacco reduction coordinator for Northern Health’s population health team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.


Tales from the Man Cave: Heart Advice for Men’s Health Week

A healthy heart is essential to be a healthy man.

A healthy heart is essential to be a healthy man.

In honour of Men’s Health Week, I want to talk about things men (and everyone, really) can do to help reduce the risk of heart disease. To do the subject justice would require a book but for today I will mention only the briefest of actions that can be carried out.

Here is my list of factors you may be able to change which will help the health of your heart:

  1.  Smoking. Just quit. This is beyond doubt the number one thing you can (and should) do. It is the number one modifiable factor under your control which can help you have a longer life. About 30% of all deaths from heart disease in the U.S. are directly related to cigarette smoking.
  2. High blood pressure. Cigarette smoking injures the lining of the blood vessels and increases the risk of developing blood clots, which contributes to hardening of the arteries. Even inhaling others’ cigarette smoke has been shown to lower good cholesterol. Studies have shown that HDL levels often go up soon after a person quits smoking.
  3. High blood cholesterol. Fatty foods are a contribution to poor heart health. Check out Canada’s Food Guide for advice on eating well.
  4. Diabetes. I’m talking about type 2 diabetes which can come under your control somewhat by monitoring what you eat and engaging in physical activity.
  5. Physical inactivity. Plan to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity a week. If you work in an office make a plan to stand up many times during your working day. Remember our mantra “every move counts.” Decrease screen time and get outside as much as possible. Walk the dog or just walk.
  6. Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

    From Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

    Excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure and contribute to the development of heart disease and stroke, among other things. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines can help you.

  7. Stress. The direct relationship between stress and heart disease perhaps lies in all of the above. If people have stressful lives, suffer anxiety and depressed mood, these can contribute to all of the other negative behaviours and at the same time make changing behaviour much more difficult. Increased alcohol consumption, comfort eating and watching more movies on TV, may provide short-term stress relief through self-medication, but in the long run will not work well for you. It’s better to go for short walks in nature and learn some relaxation strategy such as meditation. Decrease alcohol consumption and increase physical activity to release those feel good hormones and engage with the family and community. In addition to this guys need to talk about their stressors.

No one can guarantee the health of your heart in the future but by following some simple steps you can decrease your risk and feel less stressed.

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.