Healthy Living in the North

Modeling healthy behaviours

Rai with her son and dog.

Rai with her son and dog. How do you model healthy behaviours?

Okay Rai, put down the delicious cake with chocolate marshmallow butter-cream and walk away. Seriously, keeping walking girl, keep walking. A little further, a little faster. Hey, this could turn into a cardio workout! What is it about chocolate cake that turns me into the equivalent of the cookie monster? I have always had a sweet tooth and it seems once I start eating, I struggle to stop. After I had my son two and half years ago, I strived to be a healthy role model for him. How can I tell him “no” to the cookies when I’m in the kitchen secretly trough-ing half a pack? So I decided enough was enough.  I’ll be honest: I can’t totally write chocolate out of my life. So let’s talk about implementing a little harm reduction, right? Now it’s about moderation and allowable only if I’ve exercised. So far it seems to be working, mostly…

As part of being a role model, I felt it was important to instill the value of exercise. But how do you exercise with a small child, and a dog? I see these elegant moms dressed in Lululemon, running effortlessly with their calm toddlers who sit in jogging strollers and their well-trained dogs trotting alongside. I tried this, once. We made it three houses down before my kid tried to throw himself out of the stroller and my dog? Well, he was so scared of the stroller he tried to drag us into a ditch. And once my kid started screaming, my dog did his usual howling chorus. Elegant huh?

So, what works for me? I work full-time, I have a toddler. I needed to look at what worked for my life style. I realized I had a great space in my basement and the previous homeowner kindly left a rather nice treadmill behind when they moved out. I complemented this with a spinning bike. I added an art easel and toys for my kid to keep himself occupied and I now have a safe space to work out. We make it a special time for my son to come down in the basement each evening after supper and we spend an hour or so down there while I exercise and he plays with his toys. My workouts are usually complemented with a 35lb+ toddler sitting on me – I think of him as a rather cute dumbbell. I don’t know if you ever tried cycling with a kid on your knee, but it really works those thigh muscles. To mix things up and keep me interested I alternate with one day running the treadmill the other on the spinning bike. I also found YouTube has a great variety of workouts to suit my needs. I am not the most coordinated of people; trust me I am no dancer. When I watch an exercise DVD, I usually go the wrong way and spend most of my time trying to figure out what my arms are supposed to be doing, but after searching I found a video that is an idiot’s guide to exercising and with numerous choices, you can tailor your workout.

I started by making small changes and looking at what would work for me. By making sure it’s a good fit it allows me to keep motivated. I can still make improvements and educating my son at this young age about healthy choices is a great way to start him on the road for healthy choices for life.

How do you model healthy behaviours?

“Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” -Steven Wright

Rai Read

About Rai Read

Rai has worked for Northern Health for nearly 18 months, starting out as the CRU (community response unit) clinician in Terrace before stepping into the interim team leader position. She came to Terrace after working in as a geriatric nurse in Edmonton, AB and prior to that, working as a psychiatric nurse in Cardiff, Wales. She is passionate about promoting healthy living and nutrition, and thinks it’s key to understand how hard it is to fit everything in to a busy life. Rai is a strong believer is making lots of small positive changes and keeping a good sense of humor.


Running towards balance

Running decreases stress and increases energy.

Exercise assists with low mood, it helps with stress and anxiety, it improves self esteem, and it can actually increase your level of energy.

I’m not a runner. At least, that’s what I thought. Until a few months ago, the only circumstances I imagined doing any intense cardio were usually wrapped up in fantasies I had while watching The Walking Dead. I’m sure this resonates with many people, but by the end of my working day, I felt I simply didn’t have any extra energy to devote to exercise. I was content with shutting the blinds and jumping into some Black Ops matchmaking or watching TV in my evenings until I decided to call it a night.

I had plenty of excuses, too. Living in a new community, I didn’t know anyone to exercise with. I felt self conscious at the thought of being around strangers and exercising. I had too much stress, the last thing that I thought I needed was to add to that by trying to add an exercise regimen. Subtly, as the weeks went by, these types of excuses were easier to justify. However, one thing I was noticing was that I was becoming more and more unhappy and unhealthy. Even though I avoided my Wii because it called me overweight (we’re still not good friends), I was conscious of the fact that I was becoming larger and had lower energy. As a healthcare worker with knowledge in the field of mental health, I was doing the exact opposite of what I recommended to the people I worked with and it was showing in my physical and mental health.

You don’t have to look far to find information on links between exercise and mental wellness. The Canadian Mental Health Association and the Here to Help website, resources I would often share with individuals to promote mental wellness, have plenty of information about physical activity and the positive effects it has on our mental wellness. Exercise assists with low mood, it helps with stress and anxiety, it improves self esteem, and it can actually increase your level of energy. Even with this knowledge in my toolkit, the decision to remain inactive was easier (and less scary to me) than the alternative.

The catalyst for my change was hearing the experience of others who had made healthy changes and recognizing that the potential exists in all of us to make improvements in our lives. It came down to recognizing that I had the information, the tools I needed, and an activity where I could dictate my own pace. I started visualizing the changes I was hoping to make and that gave me my incentive. I started running in small increments – it didn’t matter that I was only running a couple hundred meters before I needed a break. I didn’t have to wait very long to notice some improvements. Taking on a new challenge and finding some success improved my outlook. I wasn’t winded by climbing a set of stairs anymore. I discovered for myself, that on days where I was particularly stressed, being active relieved some tension and also created a safe space where I could be productive with my stress and think things through before I took action.

After some considerable weight loss and some strides forward with finding balance in my lifestyle, I hope that by sharing a little bit of what I’ve found, others might find something that sparks a thought or resonates with them. I’m no fitness expert, but I can definitely attest to the fact that you stand to gain much more than you might initially think by increasing your level of activity.

So think it over. Take a walk, go for a hike, or give jogging a chance. Nido Qubein, author and motivational speaker, is quoted as saying, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.


Tales from the man cave: Why should I care about my health?

rich is being healthy

“Rich” is being healthy in mind, body and spirit.

If I had a million dollars
I’d be rich the song tells us. But what really is being rich? Would a million make me happier? Oh yeah, but maybe just for a little while.

Being healthy is being rich
Rich in mind, body and spirit. Healthy in relationships at home, at work, and in the community, and for all this you need a good balance of work/rest, diet, exercise and self-care of the spiritual kind, whatever that means to you. That could be reading an inspirational book, looking at art going to musical shows or meditation and prayer. There are as many pathways to the spiritual as there are creatures.

Mental health
A colleague reminded me that when I disregard my own health, I am disregarding the health and well-being of those who love me. That startled me a little.

The story runs like this: I am tough, I only whine at my spouse when I have a cold, but out of the house I am a real hero and there is nothing wrong with me. Cool! That’s what men are like… or are we?

Men are not indestructible
We are not indestructible but each unique man is certainly irreplaceable. Men are under stress: working demanding jobs, being fathers, lovers, etc. Just being men is stressful, I suppose, dealing with an ever-changing world with its ever-changing values.

We are not weak
When we worry, we are not weak, but sometimes we just don’t want to know if there is something wrong.

Oh, if illness was so simple
We are at risk for prostate and colorectal cancer in greater numbers than before, as well as heart disease and lung disease, and alarmingly, increased suicide risk.

Visit our men’s health site for more info about this. You need to.

Some of the things we don’t want to know about can kill us, so it’s good to be aware of two things: our tendency towards toughing it out and our tendency to bury our heads in the sand.

Lads let’s get regular checkups even with the risk that they find ‘something.’ If not for ourselves then maybe, more importantly, let’s do it for those who love us.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.


Food: Much more than nutrition

Husking corn

Food prep can be a way to bring people together.

I’ve been following this month’s healthy living blog posts with great interest. I enjoy making efforts to live a healthy and active lifestyle and it makes me feel at home to see how other people are taking strides to do the same thing.

However, I’ve read a million times in a million places the message that “food is fuel” – we need healthy food to fuel our bodies with high-quality energy and nutrients. I’ve also heard the message that if the food is sourced close to home, then it’s a better choice for my community. The message that I feel is missing so far is that food is more than fuel.

Food is pleasurable; it’s a reflection of culture and plays a role in traditions and social settings. It can tantalize our senses with different tastes, smells, and textures. The Northern Health guidelines (position paper) on healthy eating also recognize this. Quoting a 2005 study from the Canadian Journal of Public Health on Aboriginal traditions, the paper notes:

…the consumption of traditional foods is more than just about eating; it is the endpoint of a series of culturally meaningful processes involved in the harvesting, processing, distribution, and preparation of these foods.

My family and I harvest and prepare foods together; in the summer we have a garden and, while it may or may not be fruitful, I enjoy the time that we spend together caring for the plants and watching them grow. Even if we are “harvesting” our food from the grocery store, I enjoy that time together, considering the food we’re buying and how we’re going to prepare it. Preparing and serving the food to family and friends serves as a gathering for conversations and sharing that may not happen otherwise.

Thinking about the pleasure that food can give us, I don’t know if there is a silver bullet solution to finding the balance between food as pleasure and food as fuel. However, I have learned a couple ways to help me find balance:

  • Exercise control (when you have it) – Most days (e.g. routine work days) I make every effort to eat the quality fuel we talk about from Canada’s Food Guide.
  • Savour social settings – Other days we have events or opportunities to savour things we may not get to on a regular basis (e.g. birthday parties or when travelling). In these settings, I take the opportunity to enjoy the pleasurable side of food (with moderation in mind).

This balance between exercising control and savouring the opportunities helps me to enjoy the pleasurable side of food and my physical and emotional well-being. What are some ways that you balance eating for health and eating for pleasure?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.


Finding your own balance of health

Loraina with her horses

Loraina, shown here with her horses, offers eight points to help find healthy balance in your daily life.

To me, being healthy is a process and a goal to work towards and maintain. It’s about finding a balance that works for me and my family. As a mom of four kids, a wife, a Northern Health employee and a business owner, life is hectic. Today, it seems it’s harder to balance.  I’m always wondering, “How do we fit everything we need to do in a day, a week or a month anyway?”

I have listed eight points below that run through my head in my journey towards a better health balance. Being healthy, making healthy food choices and doing activities I like make it easier for me to make the healthy choice the easy choice!

  • Acknowledge – Yes, there is such a thing as work-life balance and procrastination.
  • Assess – I take time to sort out where I’m at with healthy eating and active living goals, thinking broader to physical, social, mental, and spiritual health. How does that compare with other family members?
  • Recognize – Each family member is at very different levels of success with healthy eating versus active living activities, and each of us has our own priorities. What’s key is to celebrate successes at all levels! Small changes can really help begin to balance the scale towards health.
  • Identify strengths – This helps me to focus on what I may need to work on more. If I’m good at one area, it doesn’t mean I’ll be as good in another area. I am amazing at packing healthy lunches for work and my colleagues will testify to that. However, I’m not doing as well at getting to my morning swim or the lunch-hour walk I really want to do. My strength is healthy eating but I need to focus on my physical activity levels and getting more movement every day.
  • Identify barriers – Figuring out what is supportive or what is not is pretty important.  Learning about why you’re not easily able to make the changes you want may help identify some solutions.
  • Try, learn and try again – Understand what motivates you (internally and externally) and don’t give up. Find ways to chuckle when you’re not doing as well as you want but also recognize that the goal is balance, not perfection.
  • Keep track – Moving plans into action and tracking them really helps me with healthy living goals – this is important for long-term behavior change. So I track my actions, challenges and try to celebrate successes. I often use my calendar for this and I find it helps me to check in on how I’m doing. I invite you to do the same and to share your ideas to connect, support and inspire others to understand that their health matters!
  • Take a peek into my world – These new guidelines around healthy living (the NH position papers) are something northerners can be really proud of. I must say, as an NH population health dietitian I have a bit of a bias towards the third one: eating, activity and weight.

How do you find a healthy balance?

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Week 3 Challenge for your chance to win a selection of cookbooks!]

Loraina Stephen

About Loraina Stephen

Loraina is a population health dietitian working in a regional lead role for external food policy, which supports initiatives to develop healthy eating, community food security and food policy for the north. Loraina was born and raised in the north, and has a busy lifestyle. Having grown up enjoying food grown from family gardens, hunting, and gathering, and enjoying northern outdoor activities, she draws on those experiences to keep traditions strong for her family, in her work and at play. (Loraina no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)


Seeking a work-life balance

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

Have you ever experienced time slowing down when you were on a holiday? During long days at the lake or on that cross-province road trip with your family, you do the math somewhere at the midpoint of your vacation, and are shocked that you have yet another week of unscheduled bliss! People say that when we intentionally step away from our over-scheduled lives, we take a healthy pause that forces a change in our routine and rewards ourselves for hard work.

With two busy kids and a busy husband, a full-time career, a dog, a home, friends, family, neighbours and our community, including all the routines and schedules that come with, it’s a daily juggle for me to fit everything together, ensuring everyone is dropped off, picked up, safe and sound, well fed, well rested, nurtured, loved, clean and clothed, enriched, socialized, progressing, learning, moderately active and very, very happy! While we might enjoy the random and occasional experience of holiday bliss on any given day, striking actual balance takes practice and intention. So how do we re-create holiday bliss, and maintain a balance between our professional and personal lives for greater health and well-being?  How do we achieve that sought after work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a concept, first used in the late 1970s to describe prioritization between career and lifestyle, which includes our ambition, our health and well-being, pleasure, leisure, family and spirituality. In 2010, the University of Toronto published a list of research abstracts, all paying close attention to work-life balance in Canada; the list contains over 80 independent research projects focused on this topic. It’s astonishing that it’s garnered so much attention, but not surprising given the amount of people that struggle with it.

While our lives may remain complex, there are actions we can take now that will create greater balance, perhaps reducing our stress, improving our health and well-being, promoting a healthier lifestyle and potentially re-creating the joy of that last great vacation, on any given night of the week!

Please remember: balance requires practice, so take a gradual approach.

Holiday bliss at home:

  • Set a boundary for yourself and turn off your devices (e.g. your phone and your laptop). Make one night each week a “no device” night.
  • Schedule downtime into your personal life just as you schedule meetings into your professional life. This creates opportunity for spontaneity and “going with the flow.”
  • Schedule a fun activity with your kids, your partner or a friend. Go berry-picking, go to the playground or prepare a meal together.
  • Schedule time for the things you enjoy. Read that book. Call your friend. Go swimming.

Holiday bliss at work:

  • If you regularly work late, plan to leave on time today. Work will be waiting for you tomorrow.
  • Instead of working through your coffee or lunch breaks, find a buddy and go for a quick 10-minute walk around your building, up and down the office stairs, around the block.
  • Schedule personal lunch appointments. Make sure that your partner, parents or kids are as important as your professional lunch appointments.

In the quest for greater work-life balance, try a few of these ideas out. Just imagine how you will feel; imagine how your family will feel as well.

Do you have any tips to add for creating holiday bliss and maintaining a work-life balance?

[Ed. note: Don’t forget to join the September Healthy Living Challenge and enter the Week 2 Challenge for your chance to win a Fit Kit!]

Kelsey Yarmish

About Kelsey Yarmish

Kelsey is the regional manager of Northern Health’s population health team. A nurse by background, with past work in acute psychiatry (at UHNBC) and tertiary mental health and addiction services, Kelsey has become equally passionate about public health prevention initiatives and upstream work. Kelsey grew up in Prince George, and loves being part of the community and the north. She is married, with two little "dancing" girls. Family is her joy and her kids ensure that home-time is always lively and a lot of fun! When she is not at work, she is with her family and friends, and she loves entertaining, her gardens, traveling, boating, crafting, cooking and reading.