Healthy Living in the North

Active school travel planning for improved health and better grades

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

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

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

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

The physical activity grades are in

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

Physical activity leads to better brain health

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

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

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

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

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

About Gloria Fox

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

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Coffee Break: Taking 5 for Alzheimer’s disease

Finally, a worthwhile reason to drink coffee!

Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a pretty scary topic for most of us, yet it’s also a very real part of life for so many of us. It’s estimated that 70,000 British Columbians are affected by dementia, and this number is growing (Alzheimer Society BC). Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are also quite commonly misunderstood. For instance, what is the difference between Alzheimer’s and dementia? If I misplace my keys on a regular basis, does that mean I have Alzheimer’s? There are too many myths and realities about the disease to list in one small story.

My grandpa, forever a farmer, never lost his love for animals.

For me personally, it’s a topic that is very near and dear to my heart, having spent several years working with people living with dementia, as well as having lived the experience as my Grandpa lived and eventually passed away with the disease. I knew him as my boisterous & jolly “Papa Bear,” and even as he deteriorated, we still saw glimpses of his old self shining through. Put a mouth organ in his hands, he would soon be treating you to a foot-tapping tune; place his favourite foods in front of him (of which there were many!), and he was in his glory!

I learned a few very important things from my time spent with people living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias:

  • No matter how buried or hidden, your loved one is still there.
  • Live in the moment! If it’s a good moment, grab it and enjoy it for all it’s worth! If it’s a bad moment, do your best to take care of your loved one and yourself and wait for better moments to come (they will!).
  • Try not to focus on what the person can’t do, but rather capitalize on what they are still able to do and enjoy in order to preserve and promote quality of life.
  • Living a healthy lifestyle, like keeping your brain and body active, sleeping and eating well, and maintaining social connections can help prevent, delay the onset, or slow the progression of the disease. (Watch this great video: What you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s.)

You might be wondering, “What does this all have to do with drinking coffee?” I’m glad you asked! What if I told you that you could help raise awareness and funds to support Alzheimer’s related services and programs over your next cup of coffee? Coffee Break® is a national annual fundraiser where friends, families and co-workers gather in communities to raise money for their local Alzheimer Society. Hosts and attendees make their coffee count by exchanging donations for a cup of coffee, tea, or other treat. It’s very easy to join or host a coffee break, and you can do it anywhere and anytime during the months of September and October! If you can’t host a coffee break this year, you can still help out by texting the word “COFFEE” to 45678 to donate $5 to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. How simple is that? Doesn’t it feel good to do something for a great cause? My “Papa Bear” and I thank you!

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

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

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Invest in your mind – use that muscle in your head!

This month, we want to know how you are preparing for the future by investing in your health! Tell us (or show us) what you do to invest in your body, your mind, and your relationships for your chance to win great weekly prizes and a $150 grand prize! To inspire you, we’ll be featuring regular healthy aging content on the Northern Health Matters blog all month long!


Puzzle on a table

Puzzles, learning something new, being creative, and reading are great ways to exercise your brain! How do you invest in your mind?

I have to admit this was a frustrating morning. I couldn’t find my truck keys. When I get home from work, I always put my truck keys in the same spot. So why weren’t they there this morning? There are two likely explanations for this. Either I put my keys somewhere else and promptly forgot about that, or gremlins hid them on me. I blamed the gremlins, and as it turned out, I was right. They stole my keys and hid them in my coat pocket!

While not everyone may suffer the scourge of key hiding gremlins, one thing is for sure. As we age, our brains change. It’s normal to experience some changes in some cognitive functions such as memory or visuospatial abilities. While it’s true that conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are associated with aging, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help maintain a healthy brain.

The point is that investing in your brain is very important to healthy aging. So how can you do that?

Think of your brain as a muscle

Your brain is much like a muscle in the fact that regular exercise helps keep it healthy. Numerous studies have shown that “exercising your brain” has real benefits. For instance, a study at Stanford University found that memory loss can be improved by 30 to 50 per cent through doing mental exercises.

So how can you exercise your brain? Well there are the usual suggestions such as:

  • Taking a course at your local college or university.
  • Reading newspapers, magazines and books.
  • Playing games that make you think like Scrabble, cards, Trivial Pursuit, checkers or chess.
  • Engaging in creative activities such as drawing, painting or woodworking.
  • Doing crossword puzzles and word games.

Think outside the box

Sometimes, it can be helpful to think outside the box as well. If you like watching game shows, try to guess the answer before the contestants. Or the next time you’re at a social gathering, use the opportunity to engage in stimulating conversations.

While technology may be baffling at times, learn to use it to your advantage. Look into using apps or games for your tablet or smartphone that exercise your brain. Many offer a free version that let you try before purchasing a full version. If there isn’t a college or university in your community, look online for courses. Most post-secondary institutions offer many courses and programs online. Some websites such as coursera and edX offer free courses from various colleges and universities.

Manage lifestyle risk factors

Staying physically active, avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, making healthy food choices and eating a well-balanced and healthy diet rich in cereals, fish, legumes and vegetables are all good investments in a healthy brain. While genetics certainly plays a role in the aging process, you do have control over how you live life. Choosing a healthy lifestyle will pay off with a better quality of life.

Manage stress

It’s also important to make sure that you manage stress. Stress wears us down both mentally and physically over time. Even a low level of stress can be detrimental to our health if it persists for an extended period. Look for more on managing stress in my next blog post!

So, what will you do this week to invest in your mind and keep the gremlins from stealing your keys? Remember to send us a picture or quick line about how you kept your brain engaged.

(What am I doing to stay mentally engaged? I’m working on a gremlin trap!)

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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