Healthy Living in the North

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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Supporting each other: mother-to-mother support for breastfeeding

On Mother’s Day, we celebrate the mothers in our lives. While we recognize the important roles they play in the lives of their children and families, today I want to reflect on how mothers also support each other.

In particular, I have benefitted greatly from my connections with other breastfeeding mothers. I remember a time, a few months before my baby arrived, that I shyly peeked over a friend’s shoulder to watch how her baby latched onto her breast. I recall swapping stories and laughs (and maybe tears, too) with friends who also nursed their children. And then, there came a day when I was the mother who nursed her toddler while a pregnant friend looked on, and she shared with me that she planned to breastfeed her baby, too.

While support for breastfeeding can come in many forms, I found that connecting with other breastfeeding parents was especially important for me. It was so great to share and connect with others who understood some of the joys and realities I was experiencing – they got it, they understood. Simply knowing other parents who breastfed their children in the toddler years, in public, and on the go, helped me to feel comfortable doing the same.

group of mothers breastfeeding.

Mothers and families can benefit greatly from connecting with other breastfeeding mothers and families.

Like me, mothers might be able to get this type of support through family and friends. Parents may also get similar support from programs or volunteers in their communities. For example, La Leche League (LLL) is an organization that is founded on peer-to-peer support:

LLL Leaders have breastfed their own child(ren) and …enjoy talking with other parents, sharing information, and helping others resolve challenges.” -Sue Hoffman, Coordinator of Leader Accreditation in BC, LLL Canada

Leaders don’t just have valuable personal experiences to share; they also receive training from LLL in order to better support parents and to provide accurate information. Leaders might provide support via phone, email, or in-person visits, or through monthly informal group meetings. One leader described these meetings as “safe place(s) where any breastfeeding parent can get practical information about breastfeeding in a non-judgmental and supportive environment.”

Group settings provide the bonus of participants being able to connect with other families:

It’s so wonderful to have a group of parents come together and support one another. Each parent attending has valuable experiences to share with the next parent.” -Rowena, LLL leader

Whether through personal connections, or through an organization like LLL, breastfeeding parents benefit from connecting with other breastfeeding parents. One parent shared:

We have found a community of other breastfeeding mothers, a community which supports us as we support it…I encourage every pregnant or breastfeeding momma to join.” -Hayley, northern BC mother

Families who are expecting a new baby and those who are breastfeeding or chestfeeding* can connect with LLL for support, through the La Leche League Canada website, by finding a group in BC, or by calling the LLL central telephone lines.


*Some parents may prefer the term chestfeeding. For more information, see LLL Canada’s Transgender/Transsexual/Genderfluid Tip Sheet.

Lise Luppens

About Lise Luppens

Lise is a registered dietitian with Northern Health's regional Population Health team, where her work focuses on nutrition in the early years. She is passionate about supporting children's innate eating capabilities and the development of lifelong eating competence. Her passion for food extends beyond her work, and her young family enjoys cooking, local foods, and lazy gardening. In her free time, you might also find her exploring beautiful northwest BC by foot, ski, kayak or kite.

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Happy anniversary: two years since Prince George smoke and vape bylaw

The City of Prince George promotes a healthy environment for all to enjoy. Two years ago on May 1, 2016 the city council adopted a bylaw to regulate smoking and vaping in outdoor areas and joined 68 other municipalities in BC who have a bylaw limiting where you can use tobacco in outdoor spaces. Smoking or vaping is prohibited within 25 metres of any outdoor sport facility or playground or other places where the public gather.

The bylaw restricts the smoking of cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah pipes, or other lighted smoking equipment that burns tobacco or other weed or substance. This means that the smoking of cannabis will also be restricted.

Mr. PG sign no smoking.

On May 1, 2016 the Prince George city council adopted a bylaw to regulate smoking and vaping in outdoor areas.

Exposure to second hand smoke from burning tobacco products and other substances causes disease and premature death among non-smokers and this step has reduced the harmful effects of tobacco smoke for the people of Prince George. Exposure to vapour has been linked to some health risks although vaping is considered to be safer than smoking tobacco products. Children are particularly vulnerable to second hand smoke and vapour as they breathe faster and are exposed to even more smoke and vapour.

The bylaw also helps reduce the amount of litter from butts and discarded cigarette packaging. The filters do not biodegrade and litter the ground until swept up. As we enter a potentially hot, dry summer, this bylaw can also reduce the risk of fire from discarded matches and tobacco products.

Supportive smoke free environments help people who have quit using tobacco stay quit and also encourage tobacco users to quit. If your city or town does not have a bylaw to protect everyone from second hand smoke and vape, perhaps you would consider working with your local government to create one.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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Gathering with food: northern voices

In March, we celebrated Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, dietitians across Canada highlighted food’s potential, including the ability of food to bring us together. In support of this theme, Northern Health held a photo contest, asking northern community members to submit photos of themselves eating together with family, friends, or co-workers, with a brief description of what eating together means to them.

It’s inspiring to see how our communities come together over food and we wanted to highlight the wonderful submissions we received. These posts have some common themes, including:

  • Meal and snack times provide an opportunity to connect with loved ones.
  • Life can be quite busy, so having some time to gather, relax, and celebrate food can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Food also teaches valuable life skills, such as teamwork, food preparation, sharing, and many more!

In the following pictures, it’s clear that families across the north use mealtime to connect with loved ones. These are some of the responses to our question, what does eating together mean to you?

family eating together.

Food brings us together in many ways. Teaching kids cooking basics, manners, team-work (by setting and clearing the table or unloading the dishwasher), sharing, and serving [the food].  Then there is the conversation while seated together, sharing a meal…conversations are best around the dinner table with 3 boys!” -Colleen from Prince George

family time together.

My husband and I always make a point of sitting down together to eat; we need this time to reconnect.” -Brenda from Dawson Creek

family eating together.

Food brings us unity and strengthens our bond as a family and as a community. We gather and share foods. While eating, we share our happy experiences and concerns.” -Marian from Prince George

family eating together.

Sitting down to eat together gives us a chance to connect, catch up on the day, or start the day together. It helps us bond as a family!” -Michelle from Prince George

family meal photo.

Some of my fondest memories have been centered on food… from social and family gatherings to parties and celebrations… I associate the smiles, laughter, and fun with how food can really bring people together, through simple preparation, eating together or cleaning up the last of the skimmings.” -Pamela from Prince George

Thanks again to all who submitted fantastic entries to our Nutrition Month contest, and a special shout-out to our contest winner, Marian from Prince George! While we enjoyed reading each of the submissions, Marian’s collage of pictures really demonstrated the variety of ways in which food can bring us together, through food preparation, cooking, and eating!

Explore some of our other blog posts to see how food can bring us together:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is a recent graduate of the UBC dietetics program, where she completed her internship with Northern Health. She has experience working with groups across the lifecycle within BC and internationally to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking and travelling. She is looking forward to exploring more of the North!

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IMAGINE Community Grants: Key factors for success in community!

With the first IMAGINE Community Grants call open and in full swing, one question that I have frequently been asked from groups is: “What are you looking for in a project idea?”

That’s the great thing about the IMAGINE program: they are YOUR ideas! It’s true, as a health authority, we want to support projects with a focus to improve health and wellness in community, so we do have some criteria around our chronic disease and injury prevention priorities. But, how it will take shape, and what activities will work best for your community, is up to YOU!

It’s referenced in our application guide, and is worth mentioning that we do give preference to the projects that have considered some key factors to planning their project for long term success. To touch on a few of those factors, we are looking for projects that will:

Support partnerships and build relationships

  • The project will bring different groups in the community to connect and work together to achieve common goals.

Identify a community need

  • The project will address something that is missing in their community and that will benefit the residents to improve their health and wellness.

Build capacity

  • The project will develop and strengthen skills and resources within the community.

As an example, a great project that makes me think of these points took place in Mackenzie, where the Mackenzie Gets Healthy Committee applied to purchase floor curling equipment for the community to address the imminent demolition of their aging ice curling rink. The group wanted to ensure that people in the community were still able to participate in this fun and accessible recreational activity in the absence of the facility.

Throughout the project, PE teachers at Mackenzie Secondary School partnered to use the equipment for their students, and the Mackenzie Public Library benefitted by using the equipment at the library. They even held Olympic-themed activities during the recent 2018 Olympic Games!

The community recreation centre is currently undergoing renovations which will include future space to offer floor curling and keep the activity going in community.

The floor curling equipment has provided an additional opportunity for residents to be active.  The equipment has also exposed many students in our community to this sport for the first time.” – Joan Atkinson, Mackenzie Gets Healthy.

Another great idea that had strong key factors took place in Chetwynd. The Chetwynd Communications Society’s main goal for their project, Healthy Living Initiative Plans and Programs in Chetwynd, was to focus on bringing new resources and options for activity to the community by supporting the training and certification of their own community champions. Those that were interested in receiving certification had to apply to the group, and then agree to provide free lessons in community for at least nine months.

Dance instructors teaching dance to crowd.

IMAGINE grants bring everyone together!

The project was very successful and saw a number of people apply for the opportunity. The group focused on choosing a handful of applicants that would support and engage in the community area broadly, including in a school setting and within First Nations and Métis communities. One of the successful applicants even included an RCMP Constable!

The celebration of the initiative and promotion of the successful participants took place at the Chetwynd’s Canada Day 150 Celebration, where over 1000 people were in attendance and participated in Zumba activities.

Our volunteers are committed to delivering planned and ad hoc Zumba classes and being videotaped doing these activities… the Zumba Program has caught on because it is entertaining, involves the entire family and has volunteers who are friendly, eager and willing to give of themselves. 2018 will see at least an additional 1000 persons participating in our dance program.”- Leo Sabulsky, Chetwynd Communications Society.

Those are just two examples of how IMAGINE funds have supported great community-led work across our region. Can you believe there are another 820 projects that Northern Health has supported in offering this program to communities since 2009? So many communities and so many amazing examples of what a community can accomplish! What is your project idea?  Share it with us today!

little kids dancing with facepaint on.IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2018.

 

 

 

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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IMAGINE Community Grants:  We have a map for that!

The first cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants for 2018 has recently launched and I have already been fielding a number of calls and inquiries from community about a variety of project ideas.  The passion and excitement that people have about these ideas, and the plans to put these ideas to action, gets me very excited! I am really looking forward to receiving applications from across our entire health region.

map with imagine grants

Click here to see some of the past IMAGINE grants!

Northern Health has been providing this funding opportunity to communities since 2008/2009, and we have made many improvements to the process over the past decade. Our goal has been to make the opportunity accessible for all, and make the application and evaluation process as easy as possible for community groups. In 2016, we introduced our IMAGINE Google Map as a way for applicants to see what projects have been funded in their community or area. It also allows for groups to get ideas from across the entire region and learn about initiatives that could be replicated or modified to improve health and wellness in their own community. Through the map, we are able to share a brief description of the project and photos- so you can actually see the great work that has happened as a result of the IMAGINE seed funding.

A very useful function with the Google map is the ability to search topics or places. I recommend using this function if you want to look for a specific type of project.  Are you looking for ideas for an injury prevention project? Or healthy eating? Or maybe you want to see what has been supported in a specific community? I encourage interested applicants to check out the map and see what ideas are out there and maybe even try to take them to the next level!

What idea can you take and expand on for your own community?

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2018.

 

 

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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Tough Enough to Wear Pink in the Kispiox Valley

If you’ve been to a rodeo in the recent past, you may have noticed some cowboys and cowgirls dressed in pink. And if you found yourself at the Kispiox Valley Rodeo last summer, you definitely would have noticed someone at the centre of those pink cowboys and cowgirls. New Hazelton’s Sarah Lazzarotto, in her sixth year of fundraising, surpassed $15,000 in total fundraising dollars for cancer care in the Bulkley Valley.

Girl hugging horse

Sarah and a faithful Tough Enough to Wear Pink companion.

I had the chance to chat with Sarah about this achievement and two of her passions: rodeo and cancer care fundraising.

What inspired you to start fundraising for cancer care in the Bulkley Valley?

When I was eight years old, my older sister was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was 10 at the time and had to spend a lot of time in Vancouver initially for treatment. I didn’t get to see much of her for a while so it meant a lot to me that she was able to get her follow-up treatments at the cancer care clinic in Smithers.

Treatment for my sister’s cancer was successful and my family stayed involved in raising awareness and funds for cancer research and treatment. We would have a team in the local Relay for Life every year but that event was always scheduled at the same time as the rodeo, which is something I love and was involved with at the time! So I asked myself, how can I stay involved in rodeo and get involved in cancer fundraising? I learned about the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign while visiting the National Finals Rodeo in 2011 on a vacation in Las Vegas and it was a perfect fit! I decided I wanted to host a Tough Enough to Wear Pink Day for my hometown rodeo in the Kispiox Valley. It was a way for me to give back while staying involved in rodeo.

What is the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign?

It’s a nationally recognized campaign – a toolkit, really – for rodeos and western events to raise awareness about cancer prevention and fundraise for local cancer care. The name comes from the cowboys and cowgirls who wear pink to bring attention to the cause. What I like about it, and why it works so well for me, is that it’s flexible! Where other rodeos might focus on breast cancer, I can keep it more general, which is important to me given my sister’s experience and that of other individuals who were close to me. The actual fundraising varies and may include BBQs, raffles, auctions, and more but a big part is typically selling Tough Enough to Wear Pink merchandise at local rodeos.

It sounds like the rodeo community is an important one for you! How did you get involved in rodeo?

I grew up in New Hazelton and spent lots of time in the Kispiox Valley. I worked out there, rode everyone’s horses out there, and was part of the drill team and multiple rodeo queen contests. Did you know that Kispiox has one of the biggest drill teams in Canada next to the RCMP Musical Ride? I worked for the president of the Rodeo Club and was one of the youngest Rodeo Club members, having joined in grade 9. I ran for Rodeo Queen in 2008/2009 and won. I carried my title of Kispiox Valley Rodeo Queen over to the 2010/2011 season, too. In that role, I got the chance to learn about rodeo events, take part in community events, and represent Kispiox at other rodeos. At the time, I lived, slept, and breathed rodeo! For the past three years, I have been living in the city so it hasn’t been as easy to be around the rodeo environment. However, as of this summer, I moved to Quesnel because I missed the small town feel after I had come back from the Kispiox Valley Rodeo. So I’m hoping to get more involved again.

Why is the rodeo community such a special place for you? Why did you look there when it came to the chance to fundraise for cancer care?

I just love being around the rodeo community! It’s homey and social. You can go up to anybody at a rodeo and have a great conversation. I find the people are always kind and appreciative – in part, I think, because of how much work goes into rodeo.

I also simply enjoy and appreciate rodeo as a serious sport. Cowboys and cowgirls practice year-round, just like other athletes. Rodeo is exercise for yourself and your horse, it takes mental discipline, and it leads to new skills – it’s healthy all around and I love watching my friends and others compete or take part in different events!

Now that you’ve surpassed $15,000 in fundraising at the Kispiox Valley Rodeo, what’s next for your combined interests in cancer care fundraising and rodeo?

I’d love to bring the Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign to other rodeos. I don’t like to see a rodeo go without it! I’m currently working with a nice new team to host the event in Smithers.

Your successes and passion are inspiring! What advice do you have for others who are looking to support health and wellness in their community?

Tough Enough to Wear Pink clothing hanging on a wall.

Fundraising never looked so good!

Find something to join and contribute to. And if there’s nothing that ignites your passion, be courageous, go out there, and be the first to do it! Don’t be afraid of people saying no. In my experience, there’s a very good chance that people will say “yes” to a cause that you’re passionate about and that contributes back locally. Everyone will have opinions – remind yourself of why you started what you started and just go with it. Everyone in the world has an opinion and they are great to consider, but don’t let it stop you from organizing an amazing event. At the end of the day, it won’t be an event without you.

It sounds like the community comes together around this event at the Kispiox Valley Rodeo. Is there anyone in particular you’d like to acknowledge?

The community businesses are wonderful – they donate baskets for us to raffle, sell our merchandise, offer their services at no cost, host BBQs, and more. In addition to these sponsors and volunteers, I have to say a very, very special thanks to my mom, Liz Lazzarotto, and to family friend Jude Hobenshield, who has been so instrumental in making the events happen over the last six years. Thank you to anyone who has ever supported me because that is obviously a huge motivation to keep going with Tough Enough to Wear Pink. I also love, love, love all my volunteers! I love you all!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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Therapeutic Recreation: a holistic approach to health

February is Therapeutic Recreation month, and although I don’t currently work in the field, I am very proud to have focused my education and first part of my career on this helping profession. Not many people are familiar with Therapeutic Recreation, also known as Recreation Therapy; it has been confused with such things as sports medicine and physiotherapy, but also has been shrugged off as simply any activity to combat boredom. Let me set the record straight on that, because Recreation Therapists are working non-stop to provide programs that are purposeful and goal-oriented down to an individual level.

Therapeutic Recreation is defined as “a health care profession that utilizes a therapeutic process, involving leisure, recreation and play as a primary tool for each individual to achieve their highest level of independence and quality of life” (CTRA, 2017).

seniors playing floor curling.

Being physically active in a group setting and cheering others on helps form social connections and bolster self-esteem.

Recreation Therapists can be found in a variety of settings, including:

  • Assisted living/seniors’ housing
  • Long term care
  • Children’s hospitals
  • Mental health services
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Day centres
  • Private practice
  • …and many more.

One of the things that (in my mind) makes therapeutic recreation a unique and special field is its truly holistic approach to health. While many health care professions tend to be very targeted to one aspect of a patient’s health, recreation therapy works to improve the health of the person as a whole; they may focus on physical needs, but they may pay just as much attention to the emotional, cognitive, social, and/or spiritual needs that make up a person’s overall quality of life.

There are many benefits related to taking part in physical programming. Many chronic disease symptoms can be avoided, delayed, or better managed through physical activity. Working on maintaining or improving core strength and balance can help reduce the risk of falls. It’s also important to note that the benefits of participating in a physical program extend beyond the obvious goal of maintaining or increasing physical function. Participants may realize they’re gaining social connections as a result of taking part in physical programming as part of a group; they will likely experience a mood boost following participation; realizing they are capable of more than they were previously (or had expected to be) can also do much to bolster confidence and self-esteem.

I was able to catch up with a local Recreation Therapist, Jaymee Webster, to get her perspective on the benefits of therapeutic recreation programming in her work settings of inpatient rehabilitation unit and outpatient geriatric rehabilitation day program.

“Often when individuals are engaged in all aspects of the rehabilitation process they have better outcomes. Through recreation and physical activity our patients have the opportunity to see their progress from other therapies translate to meaningful engagement. For example, an individual working on regaining strength in the upper extremities feels a sense of accomplishment when they are able to score points in a game of floor curling.”

If you know or work with a Recreation Therapist or team providing therapeutic recreation programs, take a moment this month to watch them at work. Their creativity and passion for working to improve the lives of others at an individual level are truly inspiring.

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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IMAGINE Grant: Teeing off on Toboggan Hill

Formed in early 2016, the Fort St. John Disc Sports Club set out with the goal of bringing the game of disc golf to Fort St. John. With the support of City Council, the club was able to install a temporary 9-hole disc golf course on Toboggan Hill in July 2016; temporary to ensure that the community was on board and that the location for the course was the right one.

Since the installation of the temporary course, the club has seen a rapid increase in interest in disc golf. Over the past year, volunteer club members have donated instruction time and equipment to local schools and organizations to introduce community youth to the sport.

What is disc golf? It’s much like regular golf but uses a disc (Frisbee) instead of a golf ball and clubs. Players throw the disc from the tee area towards the target, which is a basket. Each throw begins at the spot where your last disc throw landed. The goal of the game is to get your disc to the target in the least amount of throws, just like regular golf!

There’s a major difference between disc golf and regular golf, however: cost. Access to the disc golf course in Fort St. John is free and equipment costs are very affordable compared to other sports. Club members note that with the economic downturn of the region, offering a low cost activity where people and families are able to get outside and enjoy nature while being physically active is a benefit for everyone. The Disc Sports Club does offer yearly memberships for $20 that are directed towards club events and activities and to support course maintenance. Membership privileges also include a custom-made bag tag, BC Disc Sports insurance, and voting rights for the club meetings.

Another difference between the two sports is accessibility. Disc golf is a low-impact sport that can be played by people of all ages and abilities. One of the club members is able to enjoy the activity from her motorized scooter!

man throwing disc at bucket

Disc golf is a perfect recreational summer sport!

With seed funding support from a Northern Health IMAGINE Community Grant in the fall of 2016, the FSJ Disc Club was able to purchase permanent baskets for the course. Club president Clint Warkentin shared a funny story about the day they installed the permanent baskets this May:

On the day of our basket installation, we were informed that there was a bear in the same park as us! The bear hung around all day, following us from hole to hole as we installed the baskets. Police were always near us, making sure we were safe. We never had any close encounters, but it was always on our mind. True northerners, risking our lives for the sake of the community!”

The City of Fort St. John has been very supportive of the project and will be partnering with the club to complete the course to include tee pads, tee signs, and course signs. Community members are also pleased to see positive activity taking place at Toboggan Hill, an area that neighborhood residents had felt needed some improvements.

Neighbouring communities are also taking part in the excitement that disc golf is creating for the region.

Having a permanent course is really good for the whole Peace Region,” said Warkentin. “There are now courses in Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Grande Prairie. The partnership between Dawson Creek Disc Golf Club and our club has really been strengthened and we are continuing to work together as partners (and rivals!).”

IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We look for applicants that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. 

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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The community that plays together, stays together

When I sat down to talk with Jennel Harder, recreation director for the Village of Fraser Lake, the vast number and type of recreation activities available in her community became instantly clear.

As we sat on the shores of Fraser Lake – the beautiful blue sky and lakeside benches making an outdoor meeting simply too tempting – all I had to do was turn my head to see a handful of healthy activities. Outdoor exercise equipment, a new playground, a shed for community canoes, a bandstand, and walkers and runners on a trail along the water’s edge. And then I saw Jennel’s list.

Earlier in the week, I had asked what types of activities exist for children, youth, families, and seniors in her community. And there, in her hand, was a sheet of paper covered front and back with a list of activities unlike any I had ever seen for a community of just under 1,000 residents.

“We have the skateboard park, junior golf team, Men’s Shed, downhill biking, music, ball hockey,” started Harder, as I scrambled to write notes – missing what I’m sure were dozens of other recreation opportunities. “Over the summer we offer four major weeklong camps for kids: Xplore Sports, Xplore Arts, Xplore Science, and Xplore Adventure. We have great Family Day events, a provincially competitive carpet bowling team, hiking trails, a Christmas charity hockey game. And our bluegrass festival, the Festival of the Arts, and the show and shine are all popular events.”

parade with brown mouse and grey cat mascot

This is a community that easily becomes home.

Then came Harder’s confession: “As I started to write these down,” she shared, “I didn’t realize how much we have. No one can say we have an inactive town!”

There’s a simple but powerful statement that Harder constantly thinks about when she and the Village of Fraser Lake support these different recreation opportunities: “The community that plays together, stays together.” With this in mind, Harder supports programs that not only appeal to a wide variety of community members but also looks for activities that families can do together, like the Pumpkin Walk, groomed cross-country ski trails, and craft days for children and their parents. “I want to challenge the compartmentalizing of activities: Susie’s soccer and Jimmy’s pottery and dad’s hockey night. I’m always looking for things that families and community members can do together.”

“Fraser Lake is such a great playground,” shared Harder. “And we like to create and support programs that celebrate that outdoor playground! We have 170 lakes within a 50 km radius of our town. I want to challenge the trend towards screens. Sitting in front of screens takes its toll. More and more, people seem to be pulling straight into their garages and then hiding out in their homes. Having avenues to reach out and connect is what makes communities like Fraser Lake last.”

According to Harder, the Village of Fraser Lake has a dual role here: they both create recreation opportunities and they serve as a hub to let people know what is happening in town.

When exploring new opportunities, Harder is open to trying anything once! “Our programs respond to local needs,” said Harder. “We keep it simple but that lets me be responsive. We had some local seniors ask about adding pickleball lines to our facilities, for example. I looked into the sport, looked at opportunities to partner with community members to offer it, and now we have pickleball nets and lines being set up soon!”

When it comes to being a hub, Harder’s role is to connect with local organizations and make sure that others know about their recreation opportunities. In these cases, the Village of Fraser Lake might advertise the program or event, work with local service providers, provide space, support grant applications, and more. “Anything that helps the program be successful is the Village’s responsibility,” shared Harder. A few examples of this support include karate offered locally by a private instructor, the Fraser Lake Saddle Club and its local gymkhanas, Autumn Services (a seniors’ drop-in centre), and the Fraser Lake indoor playground – a new activity held at the local arena thanks to funding from Northern Health.

As Harder continued to list programs during our conversation – the Outdoor Adventure Klub (OAK), crib night, mud bogs, the splash park, the daffodil tea – she paused for a moment. “The best part of town,” she said, “is the people. These programs wouldn’t exist without the people.” Whether it’s the families who take part in craft days or the local fusion glass artists who volunteer their time to teach a course, Fraser Lake comes together around recreation.

“For me,” said Harder, “a healthy Fraser Lake is a community that is active, involved, and engaged. This can take work, but it’s happening here. I think that we’ve able to achieve this because we keep it simple and have gone back to basics – just getting people together and offering a range of activities. We keep things affordable and accessible here, and that brings neighbours together.”

“This is a community that easily becomes home,” said Harder. “Remember: the community that plays together, stays together.”

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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