Healthy Living in the North

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.

 

This article was first published in the spring edition of A Healthier You magazine. Check out the full magazine below! 

 

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Cycling in the north: a Warrior’s perspective

With the arrival of spring many northerners have geared up and hit the roads for this year’s bike season. What better time to reach out to cyclists across the north and get their take on biking in the region? I connected with Karin Piche, Founder of the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North and a Licensed Practical Nurse in Prince George, about cycling, her team, and why she loves biking.

When did you first get into biking?

I had ridden a bike as a kid but it wasn’t until August of 2012, two months after my dear friend Nola passed away from cancer, that I bought my first road bike. My plan was to start a local team in the BC Ride to Conquer Cancer; I’d had the idea for a while but the first step to forming a team was buying a bike and I knew nothing about bikes! Luckily I was able to find some help at a local bike shop and purchased my first bike for the Ride. This is now my sixth year riding!

Tell me a little bit about the BC Ride to Conquer Cancer.

The Ride is a two-day cycling journey through Canada’s Pacific region that takes place every summer. Each rider must raise a minimum of $2500 individually to participate in the event and all funds raised benefit the BC Cancer Foundation.

What made you keep getting on a bike?

My friend Nola. My first Ride to Conquer Cancer in June 2013 was to honour her but it was bittersweet; I got 33 other riders together to form a team that year and on day two of the event, on Nola’s actual birthday, a 16-year-old boy who was participating as a rider was tragically killed. It was traumatic for me and after going through that experience, I thought I was done with the Ride and cycling. The next year the boy’s mother rode and was a speaker at the 2014 Ride. I thought, if she can do it, I can do it. The other thing that keeps me going is the Ride family. Over the years, I’ve met many dear friends and mentors. At this time of year, I tend to get tired from all the planning of our annual fundraiser, the Free Wheelin’ Dinner and Dance. Friends and other team captains will reach out and ask how they can support me so that helps.

How does biking help you incorporate wellness into your life?

I always enjoy the fresh air when I’m out biking. For me it’s therapeutic, and clears my head, and helps me connect with nature. Being under the sky with the earth under me – it helps me enjoy the little things. When I was 49 I decided to go back to school as a nurse. That summer, I graduated as an LPN at 50 and started recruiting a team for the 2013 Ride! The nice thing about having a team is that we train together so they force me to get out more. There’s days I don’t want to ride, yet I always feel good after I go. My team motivates me that way.

Woman standing in street holding helmet.

Karin holding her coveted golden helmet – a special gift for riders who have reached their 5th Ride milestone.

In your words, what are the health benefits?

I think getting outside and being active is some of the best medicine there is! For me though, it’s the giving back and making a difference that is most beneficial. In the beginning, I was doing it for Nola but now it’s so much more than that. I’ve been blown away by the ideas that the team has come up with for fundraising. They’ve shown me that there are endless ways. Since inception in the fall of 2012, the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North have raised over $740 thousand dollars for cancer research. I think we’re very close to bringing that total to a million dollars.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get into cycling?

To anyone looking for a bike, I recommend you ask yourself what your biking needs are. Go to all the local bike shops in your community and get professional advice. Do some research and talk to people who have biked! The local bike shops in Prince George have been very supportive and I’ve definitely seen the cycling community grow since I started my team in 2013. There have been over 120 people become Wheelin’ Warriors over the years. Like me at the beginning, not many come in with a lot of biking experience.

Are there any local resources or routes you’d recommend?

Some of my favourite routes in Prince George include going out to Miworth, Blackburn (it’s so beautiful!), and out to Salmon Valley. In the north we’re very lucky to have rural riding opportunities. We don’t have as much traffic and pollution like the urban riders do. It’s definitely different.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share?

Looking back, it blows my mind how far the team has come and all the good it’s done. To me, everyone on the team is a hero. No matter what their motivation is, they’re all exceptional. I don’t think of myself that way – I just want to inspire people and make a difference.

To learn more about the Ride or the Wheelin’ Warriors of the North, please visit:

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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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!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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The relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and lifelong health: a physician’s perspective

You never know how you’ll come across your next great idea. It could be something seen in passing, an article, or words exchanged between friends. In Dr. Christine Brenckmann’s case, the idea to use the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) questionnaire in her own practice came in the form of a social media post by someone attending the ACEs summit in Vancouver last November.

I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Dr. Brenckmann in her office to discuss ACEs and her work as a physician.

What made you first interested in family medicine?

My career actually started in public health; I was keen to look at the broader social determinants of health. During my work in the field, I often found myself wondering where I could make a difference the most. That’s how I became interested in family medicine and eventually decided to pursue it. I think of health as a bank account. You have no choice where, or into what circumstances you are born. Some people are born with more in their bank account than others and I think the health care system can help to even out those bank accounts.

What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and why do they matter?

ACEs is a term given to describe all types of abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences that occur to individuals under the age of 18. A study was conducted that showed the number of ACEs suffered by a person in childhood and teen years is powerfully correlated with negative lifelong health outcomes. It’s also highly correlated with social, educational, and employment outcomes.

mom and kids sitting on mountain So how does the ACEs questionnaire work?

It’s a simple questionnaire consisting of 10 questions. Patients tell their doctor their score and it is recorded similarly to measurements like blood pressure.

Is conducting an ACEs questionnaire helpful?

At first I was skeptical of using the ACEs questionnaire in clinical practice. I was worried that we would re-traumatize patients and not have much to offer them. Fortunately, the opposite has been true. Patients appreciate me asking, as it helps me to understand them better. Sometimes when people talk about their ACEs, they often say, “It’s in the past and doesn’t affect me anymore,” or, “I can’t believe this is still affecting me today.” People sometimes aren’t aware that their early experiences have had such a profound and lasting impact on their lives. Some people are not aware that what happened to them was wrong, undeserved, or not “the norm.” Having a questionnaire also helps patients share information about their past without having to talk about it. Trauma-informed care shifts the thinking from “what’s the matter with you?” to “what happened to you?”

There are now more and more tools being developed to help people with a history of trauma, or who have experienced adverse events in their childhood. In short, the questionnaire is a simple way to gather information about the root causes of a problem. (Note: Dr. Brenckmann pointed out that the ACEs questionnaire is not comprehensive as it does not address war, residential school, or refugees.)

Does a history of adversity impact one’s health?

A traumatic past affects how our brain and body develop. It also affects the habits that we develop and how we cope with stresses in our lives. Studies show that as the ACEs score increases, so does the risk for negative health outcomes. A person with more than seven ACEs is likely to die twenty years earlier than a person with no ACEs, which is quite shocking. Fortunately, with support, there are things we can do to change these habits and change our future.

What can be done for those who have experienced ACEs?

People need to know that the things that happened to them are not their fault. We need to be compassionate rather than judgmental, understanding the “why” rather than just the “what.” We discuss what the person’s goals are moving forward and what support they would like from us or from other community resources.

ACEs are often caused by unhealthy relationships. What does a healthy relationship mean to you?

To me, a healthy relationship means three things: mutual respect, compassion, and safety. If you have these things, the rest will follow. Healthy relationships help protect ACEs from happening, and can help us heal from past traumas.

What’s one message you’d like to share with Healthier You readers?

I’d like to share a saying from one of my community health professors, Dr. Don Langille, which has stuck with me. He once said that it all boils down to how we treat each other. Not a single thing is unaffected by relationships. How do we treat those who are alone and traumatized, or who have experienced unhealthy relationships, or ACEs? It all goes back to respect, compassion, and safety.

More info about ACEs and resources to get help

Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime (TEDMED 2014 video)

ComplexTrauma.ca/aces-complex-trauma/ 

AlbertaFamilyWellness.org/what-we-know/aces

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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