Healthy Living in the North

20 minutes a day: for my dog, or me?

Dog laying in grass

Abby laying in the shaded, cool grass after a good exercise and training session.

How many times have you heard the phrase, “consistency is key”? I’ve heard it lots in the context of physical activity for myself and my own healthy eating. However, since I’ve become the proud owner of my pup, I’ve also heard it in the context of dog training.

I want to be consistent with my pup’s training and, because there are only 24 hours in a day, I have to find ways to make it healthy for me, too. I want to work smarter and not harder, so I find ways that I can incorporate the two activities – my health and my pup’s training. More motivation for me to get off the couch and more motivation for me to be consistent with my dog training. Win-win, right?

I’d be lying if I said it is easy or convenient. It is certainly something that I have to work on. Every. Single. Day.

It’s so much easier to take her for a leisurely walk than to work on the training, but if I want to keep training as a focus, it has to happen.

Three dogs laying in grass outside of home.

Abby laying in the backyard with her friends from the neighbourhood, “Ronin” the St. Bernard and “Oscar” the Boxer. Their play time counts towards her active time (some down time for me!).

My dog trainer recommends 15-20 minutes per day to focus on training and to make it fun. There are lots of benefits to me for this investment:

  • Get outside
  • More obedient dog
  • More quality time spent with my dog can lead to a better overall relationship
  • Sunshine (Vitamin D) (depending on where you live!)
  • Fresh air

As a bonus, I’m rarely back in the house after those 15-20 minutes. The training usually just pulls me away from zoning out on the couch after work. And, as much as I want to do this some days, my commitment to working with her forces me to go outside and look at the trees, hear the birds, and explore the nooks and crannies of my yard and my neighbourhood. We poke around in the yard together, I can pull a few weeds (better gardens!), explore the neighbourhood trails for signs of new wildlife (I live in a rural area and will commonly see signs of moose, deer, coyotes and more), meet and chat with my neighbours (social interactions and building community), and – last but not least – I get a lot more physical activity than I would otherwise (more steps on my tracker!).

Sneaker next to moose track in dirt.

Fresh moose track on the trails behind our house.

I’m not saying that a dog will give you all these benefits. My dog is a lot of hard work and she is a serious commitment (one that doesn’t go away in the dead of winter in -20 C!). Daily, I have to find ways to keep her and I motivated to keep active and socialized. But, getting her is truly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Do you have a dog? How does s/he help you and your health?

If you don’t have a dog, what kinds of things do you do to prompt you to get health benefits or do healthy things?

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.

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For a great full-body workout, try Nordic walking – and choose your training partners with care!

Two walkers standing with Nordic walking poles

Nordic walking targets your lower body and, because of the poles, also strengthens your arms, shoulders, and core.

Are you looking to up your walking game? I recommend immediately adding some injured marathoners to your roster of training buddies.

When selecting your injured marathoners, insist on the following two qualities (one physical, one mental):

  1. Physical: Must not be able to run; must only be able to walk
  2. Mental/emotional: Must be so frustrated by (1) that they walk extremely fast, pushing you to your limits

Note: Triathletes will also work, in a pinch.

I was recently lucky enough to acquire two such training buddies: Joanne Morgan, who’s recovering from a hip injury, and Annie Horning, who currently has knee issues.

Both qualified for the Boston and New York marathons this year. Joanne has also competed in the X-Terra World Championships, and as well as running Boston, Annie recently won her age group at the Fort Langley Marathon. Just being on the same trail with these two cardio powerhouses is truly humbling.

My lucky husband Andrew trains with them regularly and refers to them as “JoAnnie.” I call them his crew of elite personal trainers.

I recently joined Andrew and the crew for my first Nordic walking workout on the beautiful wooded biking/running trails at Otway (the Caledonia Nordic Centre) near Prince George.

Nordic walking is just like regular walking, except you use these special poles. (You could use cross-country ski poles, but they’ll probably be slightly too long. You need the special poles, which are adjustable to the perfect height for you. They also telescope down so you can easily carry them in your pack/car.)

Q: Does Nordic walking look slightly dorky?

A: Yes.

Q: Is the dorkiness factor (DF™) worth it because of the increased push you get from the poles, plus the great upper-body workout?

A: Yes.

Two Nordic walkers on an outdoor trail

Take your walking to the next level and give Nordic walking a shot along the beautiful trails in your community this summer.

In fact, SportMedBC refers to Nordic walking as “Canada’s hottest new fitness trend”:

If you like walking, you’ll love the fun and health benefits of Nordic Walking! Increasing numbers of people are enjoying this user-friendly sport that combines the aerobic and strength-building benefits of cross-country skiing with the convenience of walking. It has been popular in Scandinavia for over 20 years (maybe this is the true secret why the Swedes look and feel so good!).

I can certainly agree – with Annie, Joanne, and Andrew scorching their way up and down Otway’s steep hills, I was pushed to my limits and had a great 5k workout.

It targeted both lower body (walking, plus frequent desperate scurrying to keep up) and arms/shoulders/core (pushing with the poles). Plus, it was low impact and therefore easy on the joints.

As well as taking some of the weight off injured hips and knees (should you possess these), using the poles stretches hip flexors and calves, and helps prepare your upper body for ski season. The poles also help you balance, and for me, prevented several stumbles over roots.

If you’d like to take your walking to the next level, give Nordic walking a try. (But you’ll have to find your own injured marathoners – Joanne and Annie are taken!)

Anne Scott

About Anne Scott

Anne is a communications officer at Northern Health; she lives in Prince George with her husband Andrew Watkinson. Her current health goals are to do a pull-up and more than one consecutive “real” push-up. She also dreams of becoming a master’s level competitive sprinter and finding a publisher for her children’s book on colourblindness. Anne enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, reading, writing, sugar-free chocolate, and napping -- sometimes all on the same day!

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Lunch time activities

Row of women in yoga poses.

Between school and work, it can seem difficult to get to the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity each week. For Ashley, one solution to this time crunch was to use her lunch time for physical activity.

While going to school and working full time last year, one of my biggest fears was a serious increase in sedentary behaviour and a decline in physical activity due to inactivity, tight schedules, and changing priorities. I decided to get my friends on board to make sure that I would still be physically active. Everyone knows how difficult it can seem to make physical activity a priority, especially when we have a lot of on the go that can’t be put off, so I counted on my friends’ support to make the most of the available moments. Remember, all it takes is 150 minutes of physical activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more, so the moments were there, I just had to find them.

My solution? Yoga and walks at lunch were a great start. I went to a yoga class with my girlfriends during my lunch hour which would otherwise be sedentary down time. In my case, I was lucky to be able to visit some gyms downtown, all of which offered great classes during the lunch hour that had me back at work within an hour. For me, yoga was a good lunch time activity because it cleared my head and got me moving without being as strenuous as other classes so I wasn’t arriving back at work in a sweaty mess. Drawing on the name of one of the movements, my friends and I nicknamed our fitness lunches “fist to palm.” I like to think of the lunch time activity breaks as transforming my frustrating work day (a fist) into a calming state of mind (a palm). Cheesy? Yes. Awesome? Also yes.

Woman in yoga pose in front of a mirror

For Ashley, yoga and lunch time walks helped her to reach 150 minutes of physical activity each week. How will you get to 150 in 2015?

My second solution to the physical activity time crunch was lunch time walks. When my friends asked me what they could get me for my birthday, I responded by saying: “one day a week, walk with me at lunch time.” I have enough stuff to last me a lifetime so what I really want from my friends is quality time and a healthy lifestyle for all of us. Luckily, I have some great friends who work close by. Going for a brisk 30-40 minute walk downtown or at one of Prince George’s great downtown parks a couple times a week makes a huge difference – remember that as an adult, you only need 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity each week to gain all sorts of health benefits! Besides, what else are you going to do at lunch? Eating takes about 10-15 minutes so that can leave lots of time for healthy, productive, and restorative walking (and gabbing) with good friends. Give it a try!

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.

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Finding your motivation

Dogs are great motivation

Having a dog friend can be great motivation to get moving!

Motivation is key when it comes time to make healthier life choices. My motivation is a 5-year-old pug-beagle cross named Puggles. If not for our walks around the neighborhood, my desire to get active would easily be trumped by homework or chores.  When I look at those big brown eyes I am compelled to take him for his much loved walks. The benefits are equal for both me and Puggles – increased stamina, that happy feeling after exercise and a longer, healthier life. It’s funny how being responsible for someone else’s health (and yes I do consider my dog a person) can motivate you to consider your own. I am aware that my dog lacks the brain function to exercise himself when required and to make his own healthy choices. I, however, am fully capable of making healthy choices for the both of us. This sense of responsibility is a constant motivation to get active and make healthy choices. Your motivation may differ from my own, maybe instead of a dog you have children, siblings or a spouse who serve as your motivation. Motivation is important in living a healthy lifestyle and as stated in Northern Health’s Position Paper on Healthy Communities: When people make healthy choices, we know they will live longer, healthier lives.

Being realistic when setting your goals is important; you wouldn’t run a two-minute mile the first time you put on your runners. Instead, keep track of the progress you have made – finding out you beat your previous record can be exhilarating. Finding a healthy recipe that also looks and tastes great will impress your family and friends, not to mention improve your overall health. Puggles and I began with our 30 minutes walks around the neighborhood, always stopping at a nearby park to sniff around (him, not me).  In recent weeks we have increased our walking time to 45 minutes and I have challenged myself to increase that time on a weekly basis. I can admit to missing the occasional day or two, but walking Puggles three times a week puts me pretty close to the World Health Organizations recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week. Also, having support when engaging in a healthy lifestyle can make a lot of difference and will encourage you to stick with your choices. Support systems can be friends, pets or members of your community – like walking groups or farmers’ markets. No one wants to be the one who ditches friends for a weekly exercise class or tell their significant other to take a late night stroll solo. I know my dog may not live to be 90, but making healthier choices for us both will ensure we can make the most of our time together. And who knows, with the right healthy choices I may be blowing out the candles on my own 90th birthday!

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “when people make healthy choices we know they will live longer, healthier lives” means to Jasmine and Meghan. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Men's Health Nursing Students

About Men's Health Nursing Students

Jasmine Ford is a fourth year nursing student currently doing a practicum with the men’s health program. Jasmine grew up on Vancouver Island and has been living in the north for five years while completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her passions include working in physical rehabilitation and long term care. Meghan McQuhae is a fourth year nursing student currently doing a practicum with the men’s health program. Meghan grew up in the Fraser Valley, and has been living in Prince George for five years while completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her passion is working in the acute care field of nursing.

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Getting to know you…on a walking break!

[Editor’s note: Last month, Theresa Healy introduced the idea of walking meetings. Here’s an NH staff member putting the advice into action!]

walking break

Candice (left) and her teammates on a walking break outside their office, downtown Prince George.

As a newcomer to Northern Health’s quality & innovation team, I’m building new relationships and getting to know my team. Inviting my colleagues for a mid-day walking break has given me the chance to get to know them a bit better and share ideas. It’s also a great way to stay fit without cutting into family time at the end of the day!

Getting your team out for walking breaks has all sorts of benefits. Northern Health’s guidelines on “getting moving” (position statement on sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity) suggest any form of physical activity is important and beneficial. Adding more activity into our work day also supports Northern Health’s strategic directions to foster a safe and healthy workplace, which has been shown to both attract and retain staff. BCRPA Walk BC suggests workplace walking has been shown to decrease staff turnover, lower absenteeism, and improve productivity. From a quality improvement perspective, it makes sense to promote walking breaks to see these overall benefits in our staff and our productivity! For me, getting out for a mid-day walk makes me feel a bit more energetic and alert, improving my work efficiency in the afternoon.

Next time you’re ready for a break, take a look around your workspace and ask if any of your colleagues want to head out for a walk. Use that time to get to know your team while improving your health, along with your workplace efficiency!

I also found some great information online about starting a walking program for your community or workplace, on the BCRPA ‘Walking Program Resources’ page.

Have you tried walking breaks or walking meetings yet?

Candice Manahan

About Candice Manahan

Candice is the regional manager, decision support tools for Northern Health’s quality and innovation team. Candice works to build a culture of evidence-informed practice, ensuring our staff have access to meaningful policies, procedures, protocols and guidelines to inform their work. Candice is originally from Prince George and obtained both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Northern BC. With over a decade of experience coordinating and managing projects in health services research in our region, Candice has taken a special interest in improving health care services and accessibility for those living in northern B.C. When she’s not at work, she loves spending time with her family, going for walks and checking out all that Prince George has to offer.

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Moving more: Demystifying the walking meeting

Walking meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever tried a walking meeting?

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

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

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Choosing the choice of health

Theresa Healy running

Theresa Healy, loving running her first 5km race.

In less than a year of starting to exercise regularly and adding healthier choices to her diet, Theresa Healy, Northern Health’s regional manager for healthy community development, says she feels physically and mentally stronger – the best she has felt in her whole life. Last summer, Theresa was diagnosed with a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. After receiving the news, and struggling to come to terms with such a startling shift in her identity, she decided it was time to take action. I had the privilege to talk to her about her initial struggle and personal health breakthrough.

The first move that Theresa made was to monitor her diet. She didn’t completely cut out some temptations, such as chocolate, but she was committed to moderation.

“If I cut it out completely, it would be impossible for me to stick with it but, telling myself I could have some, helps me say no, at least most of the time,” says Theresa.

The second change was to become more active. She started with taking her two little dogs for extra walks, and after awhile, decided she would up the ante and try running.

“I never thought running would appeal to me. It seemed the epitome of boredom. But I decided I would try. Surprise – I loved it!”

To start off, Theresa set a target of five kilometers as the distance she would like to run. At first, she became exhausted after trying to run for even one minute straight and would have to take a breather. That’s where technology kicked in. Theresa found a free app for her smart phone called “Couch to Five K,” which sets bench marks for a person getting back into running or trying it for the first time. It started off with a two minute run, five minute walk cycle, and eventually progressed to the point where Theresa can now complete a warm-up walk of five minutes, run steadily and easily for 30 minutes, and cool down with a walk for five minutes.

After she was able to successfully run for 30 minutes straight, Theresa needed a new challenge. To keep pushing herself, she decided to enter her first 5km race. She finished the race in just over 37 minutes, something Theresa is very proud of. Now she looks to not only improve her time on the 5km race, but also improve her stamina as she prepares for a half marathon that she will run next year.

Theresa’s drive and determination to meet and exceed her goals is inspiring. She also now attends a gym to lift weights and work out in various other ways to stay fit.

“I got six free sessions with a trainer who didn’t want me running every day,” she says. “I was pretty peeved at first. I had just found something I liked and I was being told not to do it. Of course now I enjoy the gym as much as the running. I don’t have a six pack yet, more like a three and a half pack, but feeling fit is an amazing sensation. I don’t think I have been this fit since I played field hockey for my school – at 14 years old!”

After talking to Theresa and hearing her story, I think the key points to take from her experience are to set an achievable goal, to make a plan on how you will get there (like finding an app or program that guides you through the process or a friend that will push you along), and to put in the work. If you don’t put in the work, you won’t get the results.

Working in the health care industry herself, Theresa believes in promoting healthy choices to others. “We have to do it too. In order to talk the talk, we have to walk the walk,” she says in regards to healthy eating and active living.

I can tell you, Theresa is definitely living up to what she is promoting!

Jonathon Dyck

About Jonathon Dyck

Jonathon is a communications officer at Northern Health. Originally from Airdrie, Alberta, Jonathon has a broadcasting diploma from Mount Royal College in Calgary, Alberta, and a BA with a major in communications from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C. Jonathon enjoys golf, hockey, curling, hiking, biking, and canoeing. He is also an avid sports fan and attends as many sporting events as humanly possible, including hockey, soccer, baseball, football, rugby, basketball, and lacrosse.

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