Healthy Living in the North

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8-1-1 & PAL: Physical activity in the north – the opportunities are endless!

Woman on a bicycle

Need some inspiration or support for World Physical Activity Day? HealthLink BC now includes qualified exercise professionals and physical activity information!

Exercise professionals have joined the suite of services available via HealthLinkBC! Now, no matter where you live in northern B.C., if you’re looking to make a lifestyle change this year but you’re not sure where to start, HealthLinkBC can help!

HealthLinkBC is a completely free resource that provides access to invaluable health information and advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week either online, via mobile app, or by simply dialling 8-1-1 from your phone. Until recently, the health professionals available to the public via HealthLinkBC included health services navigators, nurses, dietitians, and pharmacists. The HealthLink team has now expanded to include exercise professionals from the Physical Activity Line.

What to expect

When you dial 8-1-1, you’ll be greeted by a health services navigator who will provide you with general health information and advice and/or connect you with the appropriate health care professional to address your concern. You have the option of either creating a profile or remaining anonymous during your conversation, so it’s a very “low risk” conversation.

If you are phoning for physical activity advice, the exercise professionals are a great resource for evidence-based information for all ages and abilities. They are equipped to provide general physical activity screening; information on healthy living; advice on how to get and stay active; individualized physical activity prescriptions; and referrals to physical activity programs available in your local area. I wasn’t sure that this would be the case for residents of smaller communities in northern B.C., but the nice gentleman I spoke to assured me that if there are resources and programs available, they will locate them for any area of B.C.

For example, if you’re calling from Vanderhoof, they may inform you about the accessible paths with nearby playground at Riverside Park, the cross-country ski trails at the Nechako Valley Sporting Association grounds, or the drop-in badminton club that meets at the local high school.

The exercise professionals will also provide comprehensive assistance with facilitating and supporting behaviour change, including advice on overcoming barriers, setting realistic goals, and even coming up with a backup plan to prevent or correct a relapse into unhealthy habits.

Considering the number and the remoteness of communities in northern B.C., it’s pretty amazing that today’s technology makes the region and its opportunities and services so much smaller and easier to navigate.

More information

  • Translation services are available in more than 130 languages
  • Services for those who are hearing impaired are available by dialling 7-1-1

Who is available when?

  • Health services navigators & nurses: 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year
  • Dietitians & exercise professionals: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Pharmacists: 7 days/week, 5 p.m. – 9 a.m. (when a community pharmacist is unavailable)

A version of this article was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about shrinking geography and accessible services – on ISSUU!

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Try something new for World Physical Activity Day

A sunny forest path.

A stroll, leisurely or brisk, down a sunny forest path (of which we have many in northern BC!) is a great way to get moving!

Spring is here…for real this time! My calendar says so, therefore it must be true. As we begin to emerge from our winter “hibernation” period, the 15th annual World Day for Physical Activity on Thursday, April 6 gives us an excellent opportunity to welcome the season that celebrates new beginnings. So, why not use this day as a springboard (pun intended) to get out and try something new?

Maybe you’ve always wondered about a certain activity or sport, but haven’t yet managed to fit it into your routine. It could be something as simple as walking or running a new trail, going on a geocaching venture, or checking out a drop-in soccer league or fitness class. It’s so easy to fall into a pattern (sleep, eat, work, Netflix, repeat) and feel that there just isn’t time for anything else, but I promise you, that Netflix episode that’s calling your name will still be there when you return from your adventure. You might even discover your next favourite activity, and if so, you will somehow manage to make time for it to continue.

Nearly 20 years ago, my sister took me on my very first overnight hiking trip. I had no idea what to expect and was quite ill-equipped for the experience; in fact, I remember creating a makeshift raincoat from a garbage bag when the weather unexpectedly turned nasty. Regardless, I fell head over heels in love with backcountry hiking and camping and INSIST on doing it every year. In my opinion, there is no greater feeling than throwing everything you need to survive onto your back and experiencing the rewards of serenity and beauty that nature has to offer those who make the effort to explore it.

Hiking near Emperor Falls

A few first time hikers enjoying the rewards of Emperor Falls (Mount Robson).

This year’s theme for World Day for Physical Activity is “Active People! Happy People!” It’s very suiting since evidence shows us that people who are regularly physically active not only experience a better level of physical health, but also lead happier and more productive lives (don’t believe me? Check out this article on why physical activity is the secret to happiness!).  Who wouldn’t want to feel happier?

The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity activity per week for adults, and a minimum of 60 minutes daily for children and youth ages 5-17 in order to experience health benefits. You may already be meeting and exceeding these numbers, and if so, fantastic! Keep it up! However, if these numbers sound like a lot, start smaller and work your way up. The main thing is that you start moving and keep at it. So, in the spirit of spring and new beginnings, I would like to challenge each of you to get out and be active, not only on the official World Day for Physical Activity, but on most days of the week. Your mind and body will thank you!

Resources:

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Physical Activity Line – your PAL in healthy living

Physical Activity Line

PAL – the Physical Activity Line (www.physicalactivityline.com)

The acronym PAL has so many positive connotations. What instantly comes to mind is “a really great friend.” A good buddy. A kindred spirit. Who knew that PAL actually stands for Physical Activity Line and is an important provincial resource to support increased physical activity? So I sent some questions off to my good buddy who works at the PAL, and here is what she told me:

What is the provincial PAL? What services or resources does it offer?

The Physical Activity Line (PAL) is your FREE resource for practical and trusted physical activity and healthy living information. The PAL provides a range of services to the public including:

  • Providing guidance to help you become more physically active, overcome your barriers and stay motivated.
  • Educating you with the most up-to-date, trusted physical activity and health information.
  • Connecting you with health professionals and community health and fitness programs.

Who will PAL support? Worksites, schools, homes?

In addition to the public, the PAL supports an integrated approach to improving health through collaboration with health professionals, programs and organizations, such as workplaces. The PAL can provide evidence-based physical activity resources to assist your practice or program, as well as, assist you to find suitable programs for your clients/patients.

What should I expect when I call PAL? What is the process?

When you contact the PAL, you will speak with a qualified exercise professional and together, we will determine which service(s) is appropriate for you. The qualified exercise professional may ask you some questions related to your health in order to provide you with individual and safe physical activity advice and/or with information on suitable health and fitness programs in your community. It’s up to you to decide what personal information you give us, and you will not need to provide your name or contact information unless you would like us to send you information by email or mail.

How does PAL support workplace wellness?  What is the Wellness Fits initiative?

The PAL can provide resources to assist with building and maintain workplace wellness. The Wellness Fits initiative is a FREE workplace wellness program from Healthy Families BC and the Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon. The program provides information for workplaces on important health practices (e.g., physical activity, healthy eating, smoking cessation, and mental health), tools to help employees take action, and supports employers in creating healthy workplaces. For additional information on the Wellness Fits initiative, refer to www.wellnessfits.ca or contact 1-855-939-WELL (9355).

How can I promote PAL to my co-workers, families and friends?

You can promote the PAL to co-workers, families and friends by word-of-mouth, providing them with the PAL website (www.physicalactivityline.com), telephone number (1-877-725-1149), and requesting PAL information that you can share with them.

What does the website offer? Why would I visit?

The website provides information on the PAL such as what it is, what services it offers and how to contact it. The website is helpful for the public, health professionals and organizations as it contains resources, called Fact Sheets, on various physical activity related topics and information on other FREE telehealth services available to BC residents.

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Overcoming challenges for physical activity

Crystal, outside physical activity.

Crystal, showing dedication and braving the Dawson Creek winter elements to fit some physical activity into her work day.

Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that drastically turned my world upside down. Being active was something that was always important to me and now, at the age of only 20 years old, I was faced with learning how to live with a disease that affected my ability to perform even the simplest of everyday activities.

Working at Northern Health has been a good fit for me, but especially in managing my health. I have enough flexibility in the job that on good days I could be out in the field working and on bad days I could stay in the office. As time went on, I noticed that I started to spend more time in the office. As a result, I walked less and sat much more. Something needed to change.

In 2009 I made a life change. I stepped outside of my personal comfort zone and signed up for a 12 week boot camp at the local gym. I still remember that first day. I was so self-conscious about being weak and poorly conditioned. But, instead of giving up, I kept with it. I also hired a personal trainer. It was a learning experience for both of us as we figured out how I could modify the movements.

At Northern Health we are beginning to walk the walk and be the face of health within our communities and, as we have learned the last few weeks, workplaces are great locations to promote healthy living and integrate physical activity into daily life. I decided that I wanted to use what I had learned over the years and share it with my co-workers, so I created a contest.

In the winter of 2013, the Dawson Creek and Fort St. John health units challenged the Smithers and Terrace health units in the first ever internal Workplace Wellness “Healthier You Challenge.” This challenge was a fun, in-house 12-week pilot project designed around the Northern Health position papers. The focus of the challenge was to educate and engage staff on incorporating healthy lifestyle behaviours into their everyday routines.

Between the four health units, over 100 staff committed to the challenge. Each week I sent out a new worksheet that explained the week’s challenge. The “weekly” challenges were designed to get you moving and start thinking about healthy food choices.

The physical activity component was based on the key message that every move counts. This theme was carried over from week to week. Anytime an employee participated in any form of physical activity for 10 minutes or more, they logged that into their worksheet and gained points for their team. Participants also gained points for every kilometre travelled and/or steps that they took for the day. I got lots of motivation from B.C.’s Physical Activity Line.

The food challenges were based on Canada’s Food Guide and provincial initiatives. These changed week to week. Examples included eating vegetables and fruit, and reducing the amount of trans fat and high sodium foods that were consumed.

One of the big successes of the challenge was the creation of the “Break Challenge.” During the challenge, employees were encouraged to participate in some sort of physical activity for 15 minutes while at work. Each day a group of staff from the Dawson Creek Health Unit could be found outside walking around on their coffee breaks. It was common on the really cold days to find staff lunging, frog jumping, or walking in the hallways. At the end of Week 1, employees had participated in 342 physical activity breaks, 306 hours of physical activity, and had walked 2097 kms.

At the end of the challenge I surveyed participants, asking them what they liked best about the challenge and what changes they had made in their workplace as a result of the challenge. Some of the comments were:

  • Breaking down the challenge week by week made it feel more manageable and seem less daunting. I also liked the fact there was a different challenge each week.
  • For me the best part of the challenge was the joining of the individuals in our health unit to challenge each other in a supportive environment.
  • Able to critically look at the everyday and identify small opportunities for positive change vs. drastic and likely short lived changes.

This is the challenge that I developed for my fellow co-workers. It was fun and really got people engaged. For more information on some of the weekly challenges, or to find out which health unit won bragging rights, make sure to keep an eye for my future updates on the Northern Health blog. Alternatively, if you are looking for a workplace wellness program that your workplace can join, we encourage you to look at the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wellness Fits program.

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Bringing physical activity into the work day

Michael's running injury

Michael with his running injury, but still sporting a big smile.

This spring and summer, a small group of us started to run the Terrace Mountain trail during the lunch break. This is not for the faint-hearted and according to my wife, is not something a sensible person (of my age) would do!

Starting from the car park at the rear of the Skeena Health Unit, the first kilometer consists of steep, muddy inclines. After that, we follow part of the route used in the annual ‘King of the Mountain’ race. The feeling of achievement, accomplishment and overall sense of well-being is difficult to describe. Neither a treadmill nor pavement can compete with the natural beauty of a BC mountain trail.

During the 50 minutes from leaving my desk, my gadgets show we cover almost 6 km and burn through 770 calories. While this helps support my fitness goals, this is only part of the story.

Previously, my lunch would be eaten at my desk. Often, by the time the work day ended, I would feel physically and mentally exhausted. When I take to the trails, things could not be more different. I feel invigorated and alive. This ‘boost’ keeps my energy levels high through the rest of the day and into the evening.

Now for the bad news! At various times over recent months, each member of the group sustained injuries, aches and strains, directly or indirectly related to our lunchtime activities. I had a close call, when I tripped on a tree root and hit the ground face-first. I was lucky to escape with only a black eye and a few cuts and bruises. While I am still enjoying the challenge, I have started to look for alternatives.

I was excited to learn that I could get the same psychological boost with far lower risk for injury. Researchers from the University of Essex, England, suggest that five minutes of outdoor physical activity improves mood and self-esteem. Walking, running, or anything that gets you moving, will produce the desired results.

Even better, a five minute session produced a greater boost to self-esteem and mood than a workout lasting 10–60 minutes. As we head into the Fall and running outdoors becomes challenging, I plan to make this a part of my daily routine. Even on the busiest day, I can find five minutes to exercise outside.

What exercise will you do outdoors for five minutes to boost mood, self-esteem and resilience?

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Spring into activity – injury-free!

Young boy wearing a life-jacket and fishing off of dock.

Make sure that your favourite spring and summer activities are enjoyed safely so that you can have fun all season long!

Spring is in the air! Lakes are thawing, bulbs are blooming, and leaves are sprouting! After a long but mild winter, it’s a perfect time to get outside and enjoy your favourite spring activity!

While physical activity is an important part of our health, as well as our growth and development, we recognize that there are risks involved – as there are in all parts of life. While not all risks can be eliminated, most can be managed.

Everybody has thoughts and ideas about risk and protective factors and what they believe is the right balance to keep their activity both fun and safe. For example, when you leave the house to go for a walk and cross the road, you are taking a risk. But, if you look both ways, make eye contact with drivers, and wear bright clothing, you minimize that risk while still enjoying your walk!

What are your thoughts around risk taking? Do you manage risks in your daily activities in a way that keeps those activities fun while including the appropriate safety measures? What precautions do you take to ensure you can get back to the same activity with the same ability again and again? Remember to aim for a healthy balance, avoid the bubble wrap and when you take risks, take smart ones!

Did you know that we sustain more injuries during the spring and summer months? Why might that be?

  • There are more vulnerable road users out and about such as bicyclists and motorcyclists, dog walkers, runners, and skateboarders.
  • Off-road vehicle use increases with warmer weather. In northern B.C., we actually have the highest rates of ATV injuries in the province.
  • There is more access to open water for swimming, fishing, and boating – all of which come with a drowning risk.
  • There is an increase in outdoor sports where we see more musculoskeletal injuries and concussion.
Young boy wearing helmet on BMX bike.

Shellie’s tips for safe spring and summer activities are simple but effective: look first, wear the gear, get trained, buckle up, and drive sober. Whether you’re on a boat, a bike, a car, a dock, a street, a hill, or enjoying any other Northern activity, these tips will help you stay active and injury-free!

Here are some simple but effective tips to stay fit and injury-free so you can enjoy the activities you love all spring and summer long – and for many seasons to come!

  • Look first: Stop, think and check out the situation before you act. Watch for vulnerable road users. Stop, think, and assess before crossing the street, before skiing down a hill, before climbing a ladder. Understand the risks of an activity and make a plan to manage them.
  • Wear the gear: When there is protective gear for an activity, wear it. It will save a life. Your seatbelt, your helmet, your life-jacket – wear the gear!
  • Get trained: Learn how to assess the risks of an activity, decide which ones are worth taking, and develop skills to manage those risks. ATV safety training, swimming lessons and driver education are all examples of getting trained.
  • Buckle up: Have the rule that everyone buckles up properly every time, no matter how short the trip. Remember to buckle up life-jackets and helmets, too!
  • Drive sober: Be fully in control of your mind and body when behind the wheel of any kind of vehicle, whether car, ATV, boat or bicycle. Operate these vehicles without the impairment of alcohol, drugs, fatigue or distractions of any kind.
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Make plans for activity this spring!

Four children playing on a tire swing.

Make physical activity a priority as a family and reduce sitting and screen time for everyone! With spring upon us, it is a great time to get out and play as a family or community! Kids and adults alike won’t even realize they’re being active when they’re socializing at the same time!

From Dease Lake to Prince George, the sidewalks and streets are basically clear of the white stuff at this point! The weather is warmer, my children have their bikes out and the tuques and mitts have been put away. For me, these are all the signs I need to say that spring is officially here!

We were pretty lucky to have had a mild winter in most parts of northern B.C. this year, but the colder temperatures, shorter days, and snowy and icy conditions will still have kept many people indoors for the season. This hibernation often results in a decrease in physical activity over the winter months which comes with a cost to our health.

We now have more information about how spending the majority of our time sitting is not good for our health. We know that decreased physical activity raises our risk for a number of chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, and can also affect our mental health. Now that we have sprung into spring, it’s a good time to turn that sedentary behavior around and take a positive approach to getting and staying healthy!

Here are a few tips for getting started with any physical activity plans this spring:

Wear proper footwear.

Having the right footwear for activity will ensure comfort and the ability to continue with the activity of choice. Walking is one of the single most beneficial things for our health as almost anyone can do it and it’s free! Walking shoes or running shoes will provide good support and the proper fit will prevent blisters and calluses. There are a wide variety of shoes available and appropriate for all activity levels that will fit into most people’s budgets. Proper footwear is definitely a good investment and will keep you moving!

Grab a fitness buddy or activity partner.

Finding someone with whom to share our physical activity goals is one of the best motivators to keep us invested in staying active. Find someone who will go walking or try a new activity with you and make a plan! You’ll get to socialize with your friends or family and it won’t even seem like exercise! This goes for kids, too! Encourage kids to get outdoors and play with their friends. Spring is the perfect time for kids to be outside and exploring. They’ll be so busy having fun that they won’t even realize they are getting exercise.

Set goals for yourself and your family to meet Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines.

Adults need 150 minutes of activity per week. That’s per week, not per day! If we were to break that down, it’s just over 20 minutes per day, which should be achievable for most people.

If you’re just starting out, start slow and you can even break that down to bouts of 10 minutes at a time, gradually working your way up to meeting the recommendations. The biggest goal for all of us is to move more and sit less every day, whatever that looks like for each individual! We should all strive for more movement! A pedometer or step counter can be an encouraging way to help keep track of progress.

These goals apply to children as well. To achieve health benefits, kids need 60 minutes of activity per day. As parents and caregivers, we can’t assume that kids get all of their physical activity during the day and then be OK with them coming home after school and sitting around on electronics and watching screens. Make physical activity a priority as a family and reduce sitting and screen time for everyone! Make every effort to be positive, active living role models for our kids and our communities. It truly benefits everyone.

In addition to those 3 tips, the importance of progression and patience needs to be highlighted. Adults should start slow if they’re just beginning a new activity or routine and take time to work up to the recommended guidelines, especially if they haven’t been active for some time. The progression will take longer for some people, but as activity levels progress, so will the health benefits! Incorporating light stretching before and after any type of activity is also worthwhile as it warms up our muscles and joints and can prevent injury, which will keep us on the road to increased activity and improved health.

Stick with these tips and your goals and have patience. Be kind to yourself and celebrate your successes! Let’s get outside and enjoy these first signs of spring!

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Learning on the job: finding wellness as a professional physiotherapist

For Christina Conrad, a newly minted physiotherapist based in Prince George, life and wellness can be thought of like a tree.

“It’s important to have lots of different branches on the tree. If each branch represents a facet of your life, then it’s important to have more than one branch. If something upsetting or challenging at work happens (which can happen in health care!), it’s not your whole life and there are other things in life that balance you out. It doesn’t shake your tree that bad.”

I had the opportunity to chat with Christina about life in physio, and how she finds wellness as a professional and as an individual. Here’s what she had to say.

Tell me about life as a new physiotherapist.

woman riding a bike through a desert .I’ve been in my current role for a year and a half at the University Hospital of Northern BC. As a physiotherapist, I’ve worked in many different areas of the hospital. A lot of my day-to-day work involves helping people do the things they need to do daily. Getting out of bed, standing, walking, that kind of thing. It can be very hands-off or very hands-on with someone who is very ill or who has just had a major surgery.

What are your thoughts on wellness?

I learned during my student years about how not to incorporate wellness into your life. Being a student, you don’t necessarily take conscious breaks and I realized I needed to create space outside of work for myself and not necessarily fill that time with more work. I knew if I were to stay in this type of practice long-term, I’d need to be strong physically. The stats show that young workers are at the highest risk for injury, so it’s important to be conscious of that while working. The way I think of it is you need to strengthen your body outside of work so you can be strong at work.

Tell me about a time you had to focus on personal wellness at work.

There was a time at work where I was transferring a patient, when I realized that if I was going to do other transfers safely, I needed to be a lot stronger. In my profession we have a lot of equipment to assist so we’re less likely to be injured, but in that moment I realized, wow I need to join a gym!

After that experience, I realized that I needed to be well in order to help others. You’re not able to do your job well if you’re not taking care of yourself.woman skiing with arms raised high.

How do you incorporate wellness into your work and personal life?

At work I wear a pedometer that tracks my steps. If I haven’t met my step goal by lunch, I make a point to go for a walk. Sometimes I’ll walk or bike to work. Outside of work, I like to go running and mountain biking. We’ve got some great places in Prince George! In the winter, I like to downhill ski, or cross-country ski. I even took lessons this winter! I think living in the north, you have to find ways to enjoy all the seasons. From the physio perspective, there’s a big emphasis on exercise but community and creativity are also important for your wellness. I realized I was lacking creativity in my life so I joined the PG Potters guild. I think it’s important to develop communities outside of work.

Do you have any tips for those looking to enhance wellness on or off the job?

Wearing a pedometer or smart watch to track my steps has been helpful for me. It helps me measure my physical activity and gauge how I’m doing that day. Learning how to balance, the skill for separating work from the rest of life, has also been helpful. I knew starting out that if I wanted to be in this profession long-term, I’d have to learn how to balance. When there are challenges at work and you bring it home, it can carry over into the rest of your life. One of the things that helps me avoid this is walking home. For me it’s about a 30-minute walk. It gives me time to debrief and acts like a timer so that when I get home, I can move on with the rest of my day.

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World No Tobacco Day: five facts you need to know

May 31st is World No Tobacco Day! Interested in learning how quitting commercial tobacco can improve your health? Check out these five facts:

  1. Quitting improves your health right away. If you quit smoking or chewing commercial tobacco, your health will improve right away! Your heart and lungs will be healthier within 24 hours of your last cigarette and your body will be stronger. You will reduce the chance of having a heart attack and developing lung disease.
  2. Quitting for one day could win you $250. Not quite ready to quit? Maybe commit to quitting for a day. You could stop smoking or chewing tobacco for one day and enter to win the $250 cash prize. On June 5th and the first Tuesday of every month you can enter to win at Tobacco Free Tuesdays!

    Quitting pays off! Enter to win a $250 cash prize on the first Tuesday of every month at QuitNow.ca.

  3. Food will taste better. Food will taste better and you will feel more energetic. You may be interested in developing a healthier lifestyle with better food choices and exercise. Check out the Northern Health Matters blog for healthy ideas!
  4. Physical activity will help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms. You may have tried to quit before and had difficulty dealing with the urge to smoke. Physical activity will help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  5. Free support is available. Nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers can also help reduce withdrawal. You can access 12 weeks of nicotine products through the BC Smoking Cessation Program. Talk to your pharmacist to get your first 4 weeks. You can also access free counselling through QuitNow services by phone, text, or email. Check out QuitNow.ca for resources and an on-line community.
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From Prince George to Paris: how I learned to love commuting via bike

Every year around April, I start to get excited about the prospects of the snow melting and digging out my bike. For the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed biking to work and school so I always associate the spring with bike season.

I love biking for a few reasons: firstly, it’s a fantastic way to get outside and get some vitamin N (nature!), and secondly, it’s a great way to stay active and get in that crucial daily physical activity. The third reason I love biking so much, is because it takes me back to a very special time in my life. For me, the inspiration to bike to work and school started when I was living in Paris, France.

During my undergraduate studies, I was fortunate to participate in a bilateral university exchange through the University of Northern British Columbia and the Paris School of Business for two semesters.

View of city of Paris from Notre-Dame.

Commuting via bike was the best way to see Paris!

Living in the City of Love opened my eyes to big city public transport and the hurried nature of city commuters. For the first time in my life, I didn’t need to rely on a vehicle for transportation and I quickly became accustomed to using the city’s metro system on a daily basis. I was able to get to where I needed to go relatively quickly and reliably without having to worry about driving (yay!), but the downside was that I was missing out on seeing the city with all the time I was spending underground commuting.

I decided to try out the Paris Velib’ system. For those who aren’t familiar, Velib’ (the name is a play on the French words vélo-bike and libre-free) is a public bicycle sharing system with an app and convenient pick up and drop off stations throughout the city. I was too nervous to try and bike to school in the mornings (my school was very strict about being late) so I decided to figure out how to bike home after school. I’m so glad I did!

Biking home after my classes became one of my favourite parts of my day. It made me feel like a local and I was able to see parts of the city that I wouldn’t have seen on the metro. I took in all the details and day-to-day scenes around me, and enjoyed being present. It was also a great way to balance all the French pastries I was indulging in!

When I returned home from Paris, I was inspired to continue commuting via bike. Although Prince George is no Paris, I realized that the north has its own unique kind of beauty. Biking through evergreen trees and being beneath blue northern skies made me fall in love with the northern BC landscape I grew up in, and made me appreciate being back home that much more.

Old red cruiser bike.

My beloved old cruiser bike and basket.

With Bike to Work and School Week approaching on May 28-June 3, 2018, I’ll be getting ready for another season of commuting. Below are some bike commuting tips I’ve learned along the way.

5 tips for a successful bike commute:

  1. Map your route. First time riding to work or school? Ease some of your anxiety about how you’re going to get there and map it out beforehand. Take note of high traffic areas and streets with no cyclist access.
  2. Test it out! Before you make your bike commuting debut, designate some time during your free time to test out your planned route. Be sure to time yourself while doing it so you have an idea of how long it will take you. The more you ride, the more consistent your commute time will become.
  3. Give yourself some extra time. I’d recommend giving yourself an extra 15-20 mins during your first couple rides until you’re comfortable. If you’re planning on changing clothes, make sure to factor in some time to change. There’s nothing worse than starting your day in catch up mode!
  4. Wear the right gear and clothing. Wearing a helmet is a must! If your route includes lots of hills you may want to consider wearing an athletic outfit and then changing into your work or school clothes afterwards. Have a shorter or less tedious route? I’ve been known to bike in dresses – I just make sure to wear shorts underneath. In the fall, I’ll wear biking leggings over top of tights for an added layer of warmth. Make sure that whatever bottoms you wear won’t catch in your gears. Nothing like chain grease to ruin an outfit! Sturdy, closed toed shoes are also a good idea. You can leave a pair of shoes to change into at your destination or toss ‘em in with your change of clothes that you’ll carry with you.
  5. Add a basket. If you’re anything like me, and love the aesthetic of a bike as much as the practicality, I highly recommend adding an accessory that makes you happy. My bike basket brings me joy, holds my lunch bag securely, and lets me incorporate a little piece of Parisienne chic into my everyday life!

Looking for more biking tips? Taylar shared some great tips for schools and families on how to get involved in biking this season, including teaching resources for road safety. Curious about how biking and wellness are connected? Check out Gloria’s blog on the benefits of biking!

To all the seasoned bike commuters in the north, happy bike season! To those who are planning on trying out commuting by bike for the first time: I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Happy biking everyone! Or as they say in Paris, bon trajet!

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