Healthy Living in the North

Ride into Summer with Bike to Work & School Week

Bike riding on a bike path

Bike paths separated from motor traffic encourage more cycling and improve safety for everyone.

Remember the good old days when your bike was not just your only form of transportation, but your ticket to freedom and independence? The summer would pass in a blink as you racked up countless miles riding anywhere and everywhere on your bike, rolling back home at sunset with “rubber legs” and giddy from all the fun had with friends. I can almost smell the warm summer evening just thinking about it.

Sure, times have changed. We’re adults now. We have jobs, time crunches, deadlines, and commitments. Regardless, we have an excellent opportunity to bring some of that old nostalgia and joy back to the season, as well as set the younger people in our lives on the path to creating their own summer memories: it starts with taking part in Bike to Work (& School) Week from May 29-June 4. I’m guessing once you’ve made a conscious decision to ride rather than drive as much as possible for a week, you will realize so many benefits to cycling that you’ll want to continue this healthy (but fun!) habit for the rest of the summer.

Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Increased physical activity: Many of us struggle to find the time for physical activity; utilizing active transportation options automatically adds physical activity into our day, which of course brings its own benefits.
  • Increased productivity: The fresh air and adrenaline boost provided by your commute will help you show up at work or school alert, refreshed, and ready to take on the day.
  • Improved mental well-being: Taking the time on your commute home to clear your head and burn off some steam will leave you feeling much fresher mentally when you arrive home than you would be after driving.
  • Increased safety: Increasing the number of people who cycle decreases traffic congestion, increases active transportation user visibility, and makes the roads safer for everyone involved.
  • Financial savings: No fuel or parking fees (or tickets!).
  • Environmental benefits: Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions (Bike to Work BC will let you know exactly what your impact is as you log rides… how cool is that?)
  • Social benefits: Being on your bicycle allows you to connect with other cyclists and pedestrians you meet on your commute; the sight of your grinning face as you sail by may also inspire someone else to park their car and ride instead!

I must confess I have not always been a huge fan of cycling. I loved it as a kid, but as I grew up I became very nervous around traffic. And don’t even get me started on mountain biking! Let’s just say “what goes up must come down,” so I can’t see much mountain biking in my future (insert chicken clucking here). However, over the last year I have been rediscovering my love for cycling on paths and roads while being vigilant to protect my safety, following the rules of the road, keeping my eyes and ears on alert to the traffic around me, and riding accordingly. My confidence continues to grow with practice. I will be participating in Bike to Work Week on a Northern Health team for the first time (officially) this year, but it certainly won’t be my last!

Join a team today; you could be the lucky winner of a cycling trip for two on the Dalmation Coast in Croatia! Register here: https://www.biketowork.ca/ – see you on the road!

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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An ode to helmet hair (and biking!)

Author wearing orange glasses in the shape of a windmill.

Did my Dutch heritage inspire my cycling? Absolutely! Bikes are everywhere in the Netherlands!

When I first received the invitation to join a Bike to Work Week team, I was visiting my family in the Netherlands. There were bikes all over the place – young people biking to school, professionals biking to their offices, families biking to the grocery store, seniors biking to community spaces, friends biking to their favourite restaurants, and thousands upon thousands of people biking to train stations. Inspired in part by all of these active commuters and my Dutch heritage, I decided to join a Bike to Work Week team.

Now, after a really fun and eye-opening week, I’m considering adding a new activity to my routine: biking to work!

I loved the chance to dip my toes into the water when it comes to biking to work. I think that I’m ready to take the plunge!

Map of bike route.

Don’t let distance keep you down! Drive part of the way to your work site and then find yourself a nice, manageable route to start and end your day.

Here’s what I learned this week:

  1. Biking to work is a great way to get my (minimum) 150 minutes of physical activity as per the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. My route took 10-15 minutes. Multiply that by 2 (it’s a return trip, after all!) and a week’s worth of bike trips brought me to 100-150 minutes of physical activity!
  2. Biking to work is quicker than I thought! Or maybe the issue is that driving isn’t quite as fast as I thought it was? I was surprised that I didn’t have to get up much earlier than usual (maybe 10 minutes to give myself a cushion) and didn’t get home noticeably later than driving days.
  3. Co-workers and others embrace (or don’t notice or remark on!) helmet hair!
  4. Hills can be tough, but people are very impressed when you tell them that your route includes a hill! Their oohs and aahs – along with my sense of achievement – more than make up for the sweaty brow at the top!
  5. Walking your bike up hills is allowed, of course!
  6. Don’t let distance keep you down! On some days, my commute is over an hour as I travel from Vanderhoof to Prince George. 100 km is admittedly a little far for a daily bike commute but I realized that just because I’m in my car, doesn’t mean I have to stay there! I threw my bike into the car, parked 5-10 km from the office, and got to enjoy a 15-minute bike ride to start and end my day! The same might apply for you! Do you live out of town? Drive in and bike the last few kilometres. Live on top of a hill? Drive to the bottom and start your bike ride from there!

So, what do you say? Will I see you on your bike this year?

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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6 tips to stay safe while biking to work

Two cyclists with bikes and helmets in front of workplace.

Biking to work is a great way to be active every day and reach the 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity that adults need every week. Follow a few safety tips to ensure that your commute is both fun and safe! Are you biking to work this spring and summer?

It’s Bike to Work Week all over northern B.C. and I’ve had a great time logging my trips as part of a team of cycling commuters from Northern Health!

It’s also been an eye-opening experience to see how easy and accessible cycling to work can be! To think that I’m staying active, reducing my environmental footprint, and arriving at work and at home energized without significantly adding to my commuting time is amazing! I’m thinking that this may continue well beyond just this week!

To help me and my fellow riders stay safe this week and into the summer, I chatted with Shellie O’Brien, a regional injury prevention coordinator with Northern Health. Cycling is the leading cause of sports-related injury so to make sure that I can take part in this great activity as safely as possible, Shellie provided some great safety tips!

Why is safe cycling important?

When done safely, cycling is a great way to get active and decrease environmental emissions. Following safe cycling practices, such as wearing a helmet and having a properly adjusted bike, means you and your kids can be safe on the road.

What can drivers do to keep cyclists safe?

Drivers should actively watch for cyclists – including shoulder checking before turning right and watching for oncoming cyclists when making left turns. Remember to always scan for cyclists when you’re pulling onto a road, like from a driveway or parking lot.

When you’ve parked, remember that opening your door can be a hazard. Watch for cyclists before you or your passengers open a door.

Bike to Work Week has great tips for drivers.

How can cyclists like me stay safe?

  1. Protect your head – wear a helmet. A properly-fitted and correctly-worn bike helmet can make a dramatic difference, cutting the risk of serious head injury by up to 85%. When fitting a helmet, use the 2V1 rule: 2 fingers distance from helmet to brow, V-shape around both ears, and 1 finger between chin and strap.
  2. Maintain your bike. Ensure it is adjusted to the recommended height for the rider, tires are inflated and brakes are working properly. The beginning of the cycling season is a good time to tune up your bike.
  3. Know the rules of the road. Use appropriate hand signals and obey all traffic signs. Always ride on the right side of the road, the same direction that traffic is going and stay as far right as possible.
  4. Use designated areas for riding when available. If designated areas aren’t available, choose to ride on streets where the speed limit is lower and where traffic is less busy.
  5. Be seen and heard. Wear bright reflective clothing. Ride in well-lit areas and use bike reflectors and lights if you’re planning to ride in low light areas. Ensure your bike is equipped with a bell to announce when passing, if not, use your voice!
  6. Be a role model. Staying safe is an important message to communicate with children. The best way to do this is to role model the behaviours.
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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Raise Children’s Grade, Bike to Work This Week!

A man rides his bike to work.

Embed activity into your day by biking to work!

You may have read about, or heard of, the recently published report which graded children around the world on their health in regards to physical activity.

Canadian children scored a D-.

But, you may be thinking, Canadians are doers! The more we can cross off the list, in the shortest amount of time, the better. This may sound like a recipe for energetic activity, but what it’s actually resulted in is a “culture of convenience.” Time is short, but my list is not.

Most of us drive everywhere to get everything on our list completed, even if being physically active happens to be on that list. We take a car, a truck, or a bus, so we can tweet and Facebook each other while we’re getting to where we need to go. Worse yet, this behaviour, this “culture of convenience,” is rubbing off on the children in our community, and we haven’t even added video games to the mix.

Don’t have kids? Well, imagine the average day for many Canadians. You wake up, go through your normal morning routine, then you get in a vehicle. You sit on your way to work; when you get there, you may be sitting for your entire work day before sitting in your car the whole way home again. Combine that with sitting for dinner, throw in a bit of evening television (which you’re sitting for) and voila! A sedentary lifestyle is born. It may feel busy, but that “busyness” isn’t physical.

Now consider this. Those who live a sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease in their lives. On top of that, sitting for more than six hours a day can reduce your lifespan by as much as five years.

Studies show that being active every day is needed for health benefits. How often do you think this happens when it is just another item on a list?  It must be a regular part of our daily lives; it’s got to be normal.

So, on that note, take the steps to move more in your daily routine. The time spent on your way to and from work is a great time to introduce some physical activity to your day, and when better to start than on May 26th with Bike to Work Week! Across all of B.C., people will ditch their car keys in favour of bike helmets, improving their lifestyle in the process. Getting 30 minutes of physical activity a day can move you a long way towards reducing the risk of chronic disease and you’ll become a positive role model for the children in our community.

Let’s shoot for an A the next time our kids’ physical activity is graded in Canada!

 

Doug Quibell

About Doug Quibell

Doug Quibell is the northwest manager of public health protection, and the lead on Northern Health’s partnering for healthy communities approach. He first joined Northern Health in 1995. After stints in the Middle East and in Ontario, he and his family recently returned to the mountains and ocean they call home in Terrace. He stays active trying to get his daughter excited about skiing Shames Mountain and sailing off of Prince Rupert.

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Biking to save your life

Bike riding

Biking can save your life… in more ways than one. Pictured: Andrew on a course in Whistler, BC.

I never actually saw the bear, but I sure heard it.

It was the end of a good solid ride, and I was pretty tired. I had put in about 10 km on the gorgeous single track trails out at Otway, and my legs were feeling quite Jello-ish. It was early evening, warm, and the golden light of impending night permeated everything with a slow sense of peace and easy satisfaction. And so, lost in my thoughts and a pleasant haze of endorphins, I didn’t think much of the rustle in the trees to my right.

Once I was safely back in the van and coherent thought beyond survival returned, I realized that that small rustle was the cub, and the snarling, crashing chaos that ensued to my left thereafter was the mother I had offended. With the guttural grunting of a grisly death in my ear, however, only one thought was discernible: RIDE FASTER. I’m not sure I have ever pushed a gear that low that hard, before or since, but I am sure about this: my bike saved my life that idyllic summers’ eve.

And, now that I think of it, that was actually the second time that biking saved me. Although the first lacks the drama and explosive adrenaline rush, it is no less valid. Before I found mountain biking, I was committing most every health sin imaginable. Lack of exercise: check. Excessive consumption of alcohol: check. Poor diet: check. Smoking: check. In short I was overweight, out of shape, and on a crash course with a premature heart attack for sure.  Also, I had a daughter on the way.

Not a good look.

So I bought a used mountain bike on eBay for $200. It cost me almost that much again once she arrived to get her ride-able, but she convinced me at the top of my first big climb to change my lifestyle around.  It didn’t happen overnight, but I am now 30 pounds lighter, a non-smoker, and I exercise regularly and eat at least reasonably well. I also no longer feel like I’m going to puke and pass out once I ride uphill for a few minutes.

That bike, by the way, is named Polly. I now have two shiny engineering masterpieces, full of flashy hydraulic bits and nifty feats of geometric wizardry that have made my much quicker on trails, but Polly is still around. I will never get rid of the bike that saved my life (twice), and she now serves as my commuter bike.

This brings me, at last, to the point of this rambling little diatribe: Bike to Work Week. I have organized a team for my work colleagues, the Kilometer Crushers, because I believe everybody can benefit from throwing a leg over a bike. It doesn’t matter whether you ride roads, trails, or both, just riding is the point. So join a team, and get out there: you only live once, and you’ll live better on a bike!

Andrew Steele

About Andrew Steele

Andrew Steele is a 33-year-old HR Assistant living in Prince George, BC. He enjoys biking, paddling, and almost any outdoor activity you can name. When not on his bike, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, listening to and playing music, reading and writing.

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Next week is Bike to Work Week

Bike to Work Week

Next week is Bike to Work Week… will you ride your bike to work?

Next week, May 27-31 is Bike to Work Week in Canada, and I’m so impressed at how many great events are taking place around the Northern Health region!

For example, in Terrace on Monday, residents are encouraged to be at City Hall at 6:30a.m. for a half hour “critical mass” style community bike ride around downtown. What a great way to kick things off and be motivated for the rest of the week! And Prince George’s BTWW gets kicked off with a free to-go breakfast at their City Hall on Monday.

The Bike to Work Week website offers a full schedule of participating communities – check it out and see what’s going on in yours! Will you riding your bike to work next week?

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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In Consideration of the Slow Bicycle

Slow biking

Riding your bike has a lot of health benefits. Will you ride this year?

When you live in the north, things are different. Bicycle riding is a case in point. In the south, people ride bicycles year round. They develop a way of being that incorporates their bike. In the north, with the exception of a few diehards, the bicycle is a seasonal thing. Garages, garden sheds and basements throughout the region harbor our bikes usually from the first snowfall until the roads are once more clear. Sure signs of spring are not just the return of robins to our yards but the return of bicycles to our streets.

To mark this emergence from the cold season, we in the north celebrate and promote Bike to Work Week each year. It may be a provincial event but in the north it is one of our harbingers of spring. This year Bike to Work Week is May 27 to June 2.All over the north people are getting out their bicycles, cleaning and adjusting them, getting ready for the week. Many are organizing teams and issuing challenges to others.

For some, this event is important because riding a bicycle is good exercise. They look at bike riding as health promotion. It certainly is because exercise reduces many health risks:

  • It is good for your heart
  • It lowers blood pressure
  • It increases your overall fitness
  • And bike riding is a solidly low impact pursuit that most people can do

However, there is much more to it than that. Bicycle riding is an experience in itself that means something unique to each individual. For many people the idea of biking has some clear associations. For some bicycles seem to be a part of childhood: “Yeah, I rode a bike when I was a kid. Then I got my license.” In that case, riding might have an element of nostalgia, a return to a simpler time. For others biking has taken on a defined culture hallmarked by riding shoes, flashy helmets, carbon fiber components, lycra and spandex. Bicycle riding for some is about speed, competition and high tech equipment. I do not mean to be critical of such things. To each his or her own, but where does that leave those of us that ride in jeans and street shoes or those who ride bikes scrounged at garage sales and serviced with duct tape and WD40?

An emerging movement that may be of interest is something called the “Slow Bicycle Movement.” Slow Biking is all about the journey. It’s about riding peacefully, leisurely, about being comfortable and enjoying the world around us as we move from place to place. The slow bike is designed for comfort. The slow biker is a person making their way through their life on two wheels, going to work, going to play or going shopping. Whatever you do in the course of the day can be made more interesting more pleasurable and healthier by making a bicycle a part of it.

We live in a world that builds stress. We have schedules to keep, agendas to fulfill, commitments and conflicts to manage throughout our daily lives. Taking the time to ride provides more than cardio. It provides an opportunity for mindfulness. A slow-paced comfortable ride makes it possible to notice things. For me, getting my bike out of the shed and taking those first rides of the spring involved seeing the first crocuses emerging along the Heritage Trail and dodging the snowy patches hanging on in shady areas. It involved people watching in my neighborhood, waving to the elderly man on the corner preparing his yard for spring planting. It involved consciously considering purchases in the grocery store in light of what I could carry in my backpack. A casual ride in the evening gives me time to reflect on the events of the day and to plan for tomorrow as well. Later on, sitting in my chair I felt clear-headed and at peace. There was a gentle ache in muscles underused over the winter. For me that ache felt good.

Will you participate in Bike to Work Week this year? What does bike riding mean to you?

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Learning to love my bike

Andrew and his bike

Andrew learned to cherish the opportunity to ride his bike to work every day! Do you use active transportation to get to where you’re going?

For several years, my body and I did not get along. I had osteoarthritis in my hips that caused considerable pain and seriously limited my mobility. For years, I had gotten my daily exercise by walking, but as the pain in my hips worsened, the walking faded away. I became more and more sedentary and packed on a lot of weight.

In 2006, I had my right hip resurfaced and in 2010, I had the left one done. The pain was gone but I discovered that the surgery changed the angle of the joint and that, combined with years of avoiding pain-causing exercise, meant that I couldn’t just go back to my old exercise routine.

Then I got an email about Bike to Work Week, and a real change started for me. Making a commitment to ride to work for a week seemed doable, so I tried it. After the week was over, it seemed like something I could keep on doing. In a short time, biking to work evolved into a routine that now works for me.

I start work at 8 a.m. every morning but my day starts at 6 a.m. I have a light breakfast and head for the aquatic centre. Twenty lengths of the pool and ten minutes in the steam room, followed by a shower, take about forty five minutes, giving me enough time to ride my bicycle to work. Swimming and bicycle riding both take a lot of strain off of the hip joints allowing the muscle to build and the joint to get used to mobility again.

At first, getting up early to swim and riding my bike every day seemed like a chore, and I had the “five more minutes” argument with my pillow every morning. After a while though, I began to notice some changes: I realized that I felt better all day, I have more energy, and my clothes started to fit better. What seemed like a long ride a few months ago now seems like a short hop, and I find myself looking forward to my daily routine.

When the weather closes in, I feel anxious about possibly not being able to ride my bike. I have taken to going for a ride in the evenings as well, and on Saturday mornings, my partner and I ride our bikes to the Farmers’ Market or to our favorite coffee shop. When I began this routine, a friend said it would cost a lot to go swimming every day, but funny thing about it is that it doesn’t. I save more in gas by not taking my van to work every day than it costs for a monthly swim pass. What was a chore a few months ago has become a cherished part of my life. With the arrival of Fall, I know I’ll need to find something to take the place of the bicycle when the snow flies. I did see an exercise bike at a garage sale last weekend. Guess I’ll clear some space in the rec room…!

Getting to your daily destination using active transportation (like riding a bike) is a great option for many reasons! How do you actively travel around your community?

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Healthy Living Week 4 Challenge and tell us about how you source local food for your chance to win a great mini freezer!]

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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