Healthy Living in the North

Sedentary Behaviours – They’re not all created equal!

The sun sets over water in the distance. The sky is blue and gold punctuated by clouds. In the foreground, a silhouette watches the beautiful scene.

Some sedentary behaviours are good for your well-being, like taking in a soothing sunset.

The new smoking.” Sedentary time (time spent in a sitting or lying position while expending very little energy) has come under fire for its negative health effects lately. While there are certainly significant health risks associated with time spent being sedentary, calling it “the new smoking” is a bit of a scare tactic – smoking is still riskier.

At this point, you might be starting to doubt my intentions. After all, my job is to promote increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviour in the name of better health. Fear not! I’ll get there yet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five years of age:

This is really exciting because the WHO took the evidence used in the development of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4), reviewed more evidence, and reinforced these main messages:

  • Kids need to get a good amount and variety of physical activity each day.
    • For those under one year, being active several times a day including floor-based play and tummy time.
    • For kids between one to two years of age, at least three hours at any intensity throughout the day.
    • For kids between three to four years of age, at least three hours, including at least one hour of higher intensity activity throughout the day.
  • Kids need to get enough – and good quality – sleep!
    • For those under one year, the recommendation is 12-17 hours including naps.
    • For ages one to two, 11-14 hours.
    • For ages three to four, 10-13 hours.
  • Kids need to spend less (or limited) time being restrained and sitting in front of screens.
    • Translation? Not being stuck in a stroller or car seat for more than one hour at a time. Screen time isn’t recommended for children under two years, and it’s recommended to limit sedentary screen time to no more than one hour for kids aged between two and four.

Here’s what I really appreciate about this last part, and what I think actually applies to all ages: the recommendation is to replace restrained and sedentary screen time with more physical activity, while still ensuring a good quality sleep. However, it doesn’t tell us to avoid all sedentary time completely. In fact, this concept recognizes that there are a number of sedentary activities (particularly in the early, developmental years, but also for all ages) that are very valuable from a holistic wellness perspective.

For children, these higher quality sedentary activities include quiet play, reading, creative storytelling and interacting with caregivers, etc. For adults, things like reading a book, creating something, making music, or working on a puzzle can contribute to our overall wellness by expanding our minds and focusing on something positive.

So, what I’m saying is this: yes, for the sake of our health, we need to sit less and move more. However, not all sedentary behaviours are terrible or need to be eliminated completely. Generally, the sedentary behaviours that we, as a society, need to get a handle on are the ones involving staring at screens and numbing our brains. This is not to say that we should never watch TV or movies, or scroll through social media; we just need to be mindful of it, and try to swap out some of these activities in favour of moving our bodies more. We need to recognize the difference between those sedentary activities that leave you feeling sluggish and dull versus those that leave you inspired and peaceful. Do less of what dulls you, and more of what inspires you, for a balanced, healthy life!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Meet our Northern biking champions: Cache from Mackenzie

Cache, wearing his helmet and on his bike, have stopped on a ramp on the street.

Cache is ready to take a jump during Ride to Work & School Week.

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2), we are featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Cache Carlson, a grade 4 student at Morfee Elementary School in Mackenzie.

What do you like most about biking?

The more I ride to school, the more I can find and hit little jumps along the way!

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work or school?

Biking trails… bicycle specific routes.

What type of bike do you ride?

A fitbike 18: BMX!

Any bike tips you’d like to share?

Do preventative maintenance on your bike. I like to fix worn out or broken things on my bike as soon as I notice them.

***

Sounds like Mackenzie might have a budding bike mechanic! A big thank you to Cache for sharing how much fun he has on his ride to school!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Meet our Northern biking champions: Anna from Mackenzie

A woman standing astride her bike on the side of the road. The bike is towing a child trailer with a child wearing a helmet sitting side.

Anna is sporting her studded winter bike tires and chariot, which help her and her daughter get around town safely.

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2), we are featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Anna Kandola, a Dietitian and Kinesiologist in Mackenzie.

Why do you bike to work and what do you like most about it?

We decided it would be a good option instead of having a second car – better for health, finances and the environment. It wakes me up and gives me more energy through the day to have had a bit of activity in the morning!

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work OR school?

More bike racks available in the winter.

Any biking tips you’d like to share?

I have studded tires for winter riding which seem to help a lot. The chariot makes it so we can transport our daughter easily, so I can’t use her as an excuse not to bike.

***

A big thank you to Anna for sharing some ideas on how to make biking an easier option year-round!

Are you a winter cyclist? Please share your tips and tricks with us for staying safe, warm, and dry on two wheels!

 

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Meet our Northern biking champions: Mattie from Mackenzie

A young girl, wearing a black and pink hoodie, poses with her red bike and helmet.

Mattie would like to thank her mom for lending out her bike until Mattie can get a new one…”Thanks, Mom!”

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2), we are featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Mattie Ludvigson, a grade 7 student at Mackenzie Secondary School.

Why do you bike to school?

I used to walk because I lived so close to the elementary school. Now that I go to the high school, I bike because it’s a bit further away, and biking takes less time. Plus, I know some short cuts!!

What do you like most about biking?

I like that I can meet up with friends and bike with them!

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work or school?

Something to encourage them more (both adults and kids)… maybe a reward of some type given out randomly?!

Any bike tips you’d like to share?

The best place to ride your bike is when you are out camping… you must ALWAYS remember to pack your bike… then go make your own trails!

***

Thanks, Mattie, for sharing your reasons and motivation for riding your bike!

What kind of incentives do you think would work to get more people riding in your community? We’d love to hear from you!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Meet our Northern biking champions: Laurel from Prince George

A woman wearing a bike helmet, perched on an orange bicycle, on a sidewalk downtown.

Laurel has been cycle commuting for about 13 years in multiple cities including Toronto, Vancouver, and now Prince George, with her trusty steed, Beatrice the Second.

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2), we are featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Laurel Burton, Population Health Dietitian in Prince George.

Why do you bike to work?

So many reasons! But the most important reason is that it’s environmentally sustainable and helps reduce my carbon footprint.

What do you like most about biking?

It’s a great way to fit some physical activity in, and it makes getting active easier!

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work or school?

A strong commitment from local municipality to promoting safer active transportation initiatives and improved active transportation infrastructure; having some roads that are car-free, especially downtown, while still ensuring infrastructure for vehicle parking.

Anything you’d like to share to encourage others to bike?

The best way to encourage people is to create an environment where it’s easier for people to bike. Considering our environment, air quality, etc., and looking for ways to make an impact is important.

***

Thanks, Laurel, for encouraging us to get out there on our bikes for the benefit of not only our own health, but also the environment!

Join the Bike to Work & School movement! Register today and log at least one ride (I bet you’ll want to ride more!) to win a cycling trip for two in the Prosecco Hills of Italy.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Meet our Northern biking champions: Esther from Mackenzie!

Two youth posing with their bikes.

Esther says that “biking is a healthy activity…it’s good for ALL of your body,” and her friend & biking buddy Charlotte agrees!

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2, 2019), we are featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Esther McIntyre, a grade 6 student at Morfee Elementary.

Why do you bike to school and what do you like best about biking?

It’s the fastest way to get to school! I think it’s a safer form of transportation than driving (beyond the fact that I’m in grade 6 and can’t drive!). Visibility is better – both people being able to see YOU biking with your helmet on, and you can see everything that’s going on around you when you are biking, more than you would see in a car.

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work OR school?

We could use a few more bike racks in town, and some more sidewalks for the young bikers to bike on safely.

What type of bike do you ride?

My mom’s as I grew out of mine. I’d like to get a mountain bike.

Any biking tips you’d like to share?

An important thing for safe biking is to be aware of your strengths and limitations, and it’s good to know what gears you feel comfortable riding in.

***

A big thank you to Esther for sharing some really helpful insights, and a shout out to Moe Hopkins, NH Support Worker, for connecting with Esther!

If you haven’t participated in Bike to Work & School Week before, why not make this your year? We’d love to hear about your experiences riding in your home community.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Meet our Northern biking champions: Barb from Mackenzie!

Barb Paterson, smiling in a yellow reflective biking jacket, and riding a bike.

Barb is a champion for students by assisting with the Bike to School events at Morfee Elementary School. Learn more about bike to school and work week at www.biketowork.ca

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2), we will be featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Barb Paterson, a retired nurse from Mackenzie.

Why do you ride?

I love to bike. I am retired but have always liked biking, so I try to bike as often as I can. I like biking because I love how you can go anywhere, and I like the exercise.

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work OR school?

We just need to keep working with the GoByBike [Society] and grow the profile of biking in town. It seems to be increasing the number of kids on bicycles in Mackenzie!

What do you ride?

I ride a custom built Santa Cruz that Phil Evanson in Prince George creatively built by mixing and matching bike parts and components. I love it. He rounded up everything I wanted in a bike and put it together for me.

Any biking tips you’d like to share?

It amazes me how often I see parents cycling with their children, where the kids have helmets on but not the adults! Parents: protect YOUR brains too and set a good example for your children by wearing your helmet when you’re biking!

***

Shout out to Moe Hopkins, NH Support Worker & Community Champion herself, for seeking out and interviewing Barb!

It’s not too late to participate in Bike to Work & School week – register now and log at least one ride to be eligible to win the grand prize of a cycling adventure for two in Italy!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Being a teen can be tough! Getting active can help

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

A dog with a backpack behind people snowshoeing.

When I was a teenager, my family used to tease me, lovingly, about riding a roller coaster of emotions. One minute I was flying high, giddy and unstoppable, the next minute I would be physically drooping, bored, and waiting for something or someone to pick me back up again. Everything that happened to and around me was a big deal, and I was deeply affected, positively or negatively.

Life as a teenager was not easy, and that was before smartphones and social media were a thing. Today’s teens deal with all of the same life changes and stressors people my age dealt with, and then some. There seems to be significantly more pressure to perform, in school, sports, socially… not only in person, but also virtually. While the pressure used to ease when we got home at the end of the day, there is no reprieve today; a person’s online presence never rests.

It’s no wonder anxiety, depression, and other related mental health concerns are so frequently mentioned while referring to today’s youth population.

Additionally, because today’s social life is quite often literally located at arms’ length (on our handheld devices), motivation to get out and engage face-to-face is low, which leads to increasingly sedentary (inactive) lifestyles.

The positive link between physical activity and improved mental health is well documented, but did you know that high rates of sedentary time have been linked to a greater risk of developing depression in adolescence? If we weren’t already concerned about rising rates of sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity, we now should be.

Here are a few ways making physical activity a priority can help improve youth mental wellness:

  1. Physical activity is a healthy coping mechanism. It can help clear the mind and decrease anxiety levels.
  2. Physical activity provides a “time out” from online pressures. Chances are, whether we’re doing something active solo or with others, we’re not bothering to check our phones for a while. Having a healthy distraction can help put whatever is happening online into perspective.
  3. Getting involved in an activity or sport with others helps build social connections, which are vital to our emotional well-being.
  4. Being physically active helps boost self-esteem – a key indicator of mental health! It also helps us build resilience to fight daily stressors.
  5. One word: endorphins! When we raise our heart rates, our bodies produce endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals, giving us an immediate mental boost.

The physical and mental health benefits of being active can be realized in a variety of ways, which is why it’s important that youth are exposed to as many different forms of physical activity as possible to assist in finding something exciting and enjoyable. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete, or a “gym rat,” and there is no single “must do” physical activity to help you reach your full potential. Full potential is individual, and reached when you find that thing (or things) that makes you tick. Once you discover it, whether it’s running, basketball, hiking, foraging, snowshoeing, etc., you’ll notice how good you feel whenever you do it, you’ll want to keep on doing it, and you’ll continue to reap the benefits from it, in every aspect of your life.  

For more information on the links between physical activity and mental health:

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Active school travel planning for improved health and better grades

The transition from summer to autumn, with back to school and back to regular routines, is always a busy time. Hopefully you’ve managed to find time for outdoor activity, taking advantage of the evening light while we still have it, and not just hiding inside, staring at screens.

Stats on the rates of active transportation in children.Increasingly, research is telling us a few disturbing facts:

  • We’re not active enough to reap the numerous health benefits associated with being physically active.
  • We are spending far too much time being sedentary (seated or lying down, often staring at a screen), so much so that we are at greater risk of chronic disease.

These stats apply to people of all ages, but with a new school year underway, I’d like to focus on what can be done to improve the situation for our next generation, specifically through the promotion of active transportation to and from school.

The physical activity grades are in

According to the latest ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, only about a third (35%) of Canadian children and youth are active enough to get the 60 minutes of heart-pumping activity they need each day, landing us the marginal grade of D+ in Overall Physical Activity.  The bad news doesn’t end there; our grade in Active Transportation is a D-, meaning that only 21% of 5-19 year olds in Canada regularly use active modes of transportation, while nearly two thirds use inactive modes, such as being dropped off by a personal vehicle or bus.

Physical activity leads to better brain health

NH Mascot, Spirit the Caribou, walking to school with Gloria Fox.We’re well aware that there are many reasons that children and youth should be active, but now we have yet another incentive to consider: brain health! Along with this year’s Report Card came an Expert Statement on Physical Activity and Brain Health in Children and Youth, stating, “For better brain health, all children and youth should be physically active on a regular basis. In addition to physical health benefits, physical activity also improves cognition, brain function and mental health.” (ParticipACTION, 2018). So, now that we know for sure that physical activity is not only good for the physical body but also the brain, it stands to reason that kids who are regularly active will be better set up for success in school.

Promoting active transportation, or people-powered transportation such as walking, cycling, or wheeling, has the potential to make a positive impact in many ways:

  • Increased daily physical activity.
  • Improved overall health.
  • Improved mood and focus.
  • Improved cognition and problem-solving skills.
  • Decreased air pollution as a result of less vehicle reliance.

This fall, consider how active school travel might work for your family or local school

  • HASTe BC (Hub for Active School Travel) has a handy online Active and Safe Routes to School Toolkit that presents nine different ideas for ways to incorporate more active transportation into daily school life; this way, you can choose the option(s) that will work best for you and your school!
  • Another option is Parachute Canada’s Walking School Bus Event Guide; it’s easy to follow and quick to implement.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Four benefits of riding your bike now

Gloria cycling next to the Fraser River.

There are so many benefits to riding your bike, at any age! Why not use this year’s Bike to Work & School Week as a good time to start?!

This year’s Bike to Work & School Week runs from Monday, May 28 to Sunday, June 3. Think riding bikes is just for kids? Think again!! Riding bikes with friends may be one of your favourite childhood memories, but that “feeling of flying” doesn’t have to stop when you reach adulthood. In fact, the benefits of cycling at any age are so numerous, it really makes sense to continue this activity as much (and as late in life) as possible.

Here are some of the benefits you’ll experience by hopping on two wheels:

Health Benefits:

  • Increases your physical activity levels. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week to achieve health benefits. A bike ride or two can help make this number easy to reach and/or beat!
  • Lowers your risk of chronic disease by lowering your blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol.
  • Improves your focus and overall mental health.
  • Cycling is a low-impact way to get your heart pumping while taking it easy on your hips and knees – a great alternative to pounding the pavement on a run!
  • Lets you get a better rest! You sleep better when you’ve been active throughout the day.

Environmental Benefits:

  • Reduces pollution levels. Every time you choose to ride rather than drive, you are benefiting the environment and air quality. Don’t buy it? I believe the saying goes something like this: “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

Financial Benefits:

  • Getting around by bike is free! No fuel costs or parking fees.

Personal Benefits:

  • Saves you time!
    • In many cases, if you live within a reasonable distance from your destination, you will actually get there faster by bike than by vehicle.
    • No need to waste time circling in search of a parking spot!

Worried about safety? Research shows that safety increases as the number of people cycling increases!  Reasons for this include: more bikes mean fewer vehicles on the road, and drivers become more aware of the cyclists on the road simply because there are more of them! Are there safety risks to cycling? Yes, BUT the potential benefits outweigh the risks. To be better prepared to share the road, there are some great resources out there to help you brush up on your skills:

Start your cycling season off right by participating in Bike to Work & School Week May 28 to June 3, but don’t stop there! Use Bike to Work & School Week as your jumping off point and keep on riding throughout the summer to experience some (or all) of the benefits listed above. Registration is free, and if you log even one ride you’ll be entered to win the grand prize of a cycling trip for two in Portugal! You can join an existing team (I have one you can join! It’s called “Health’s Angels” and we happily accept new members OR challenges!), start your own team, or sign up as an individual.

If you have school-aged kids, register them for Bike to School Week, and check with the school to see if it is registered – get everyone on board! If your kids’ school sends us photos or stories about their Bike to School event (email: Healthy.Schools@northernhealth.ca), they could have the chance of having Spirit the Caribou visit their school during International Walk to School Month in October!

Let us know if you’ll be participating in Bike to Work & School Week this year; I hope to see you out there!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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