Healthy Living in the North

8-1-1 & PAL: Physical activity in the north – the opportunities are endless!

Woman on a bicycle

Need some inspiration or support for World Physical Activity Day? HealthLink BC now includes qualified exercise professionals and physical activity information!

Exercise professionals have joined the suite of services available via HealthLinkBC! Now, no matter where you live in northern B.C., if you’re looking to make a lifestyle change this year but you’re not sure where to start, HealthLinkBC can help!

HealthLinkBC is a completely free resource that provides access to invaluable health information and advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week either online, via mobile app, or by simply dialling 8-1-1 from your phone. Until recently, the health professionals available to the public via HealthLinkBC included health services navigators, nurses, dietitians, and pharmacists. The HealthLink team has now expanded to include exercise professionals from the Physical Activity Line.

What to expect

When you dial 8-1-1, you’ll be greeted by a health services navigator who will provide you with general health information and advice and/or connect you with the appropriate health care professional to address your concern. You have the option of either creating a profile or remaining anonymous during your conversation, so it’s a very “low risk” conversation.

If you are phoning for physical activity advice, the exercise professionals are a great resource for evidence-based information for all ages and abilities. They are equipped to provide general physical activity screening; information on healthy living; advice on how to get and stay active; individualized physical activity prescriptions; and referrals to physical activity programs available in your local area. I wasn’t sure that this would be the case for residents of smaller communities in northern B.C., but the nice gentleman I spoke to assured me that if there are resources and programs available, they will locate them for any area of B.C.

For example, if you’re calling from Vanderhoof, they may inform you about the accessible paths with nearby playground at Riverside Park, the cross-country ski trails at the Nechako Valley Sporting Association grounds, or the drop-in badminton club that meets at the local high school.

The exercise professionals will also provide comprehensive assistance with facilitating and supporting behaviour change, including advice on overcoming barriers, setting realistic goals, and even coming up with a backup plan to prevent or correct a relapse into unhealthy habits.

Considering the number and the remoteness of communities in northern B.C., it’s pretty amazing that today’s technology makes the region and its opportunities and services so much smaller and easier to navigate.

More information

  • Translation services are available in more than 130 languages
  • Services for those who are hearing impaired are available by dialling 7-1-1

Who is available when?

  • Health services navigators & nurses: 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year
  • Dietitians & exercise professionals: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • Pharmacists: 7 days/week, 5 p.m. – 9 a.m. (when a community pharmacist is unavailable)

A version of this article was originally published in the spring 2017 issue of Healthier You magazine. Read the full issue – all about shrinking geography and accessible services – on ISSUU!

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.


Your health HQ

A thumbs up in front of the health link BC website

A thumbs up for HealthLink BC.

Please tell me I am not the only one to ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of health information out there! A Google search for “health tips” will yield well over one million results in a quarter of a second. It doesn’t matter how good you are at making sense of information, even the savviest of researchers can be stunned.

Even for a healthy individual without a clinical diagnosis of disease, the situation can be confusing. For example, some of the things I wonder about:

  • How many servings of dark green vegetables should I get each day?
  • How many hours of sleep am I supposed to get?
  • Should I get a flu shot?
  • Is it better to walk 10 minutes each day, or 20 minutes every other day?

In one of my previous jobs, I worked with cancer survivors and learned about their experiences in northern BC. One of the interesting things that I took away from that job is that people care about finding quality information. That is, information that is trusted and true; people value information from a reliable source.

Have you ever heard of HealthLink BC? While it may not be as sexy as the cover model on the front of the magazine at the checkout stand, it is written by experts who live and work in your province and it’s developed with you in mind.

HealthLink BC is a free resource to all British Columbians where you can find any and all non-emergency health-related information. You can search healthy lifestyle tips, medications, and diseases and their symptoms. All information is medically-approved, so it can be trusted.

HealthLink BC is accessible. They have a user-friendly website and you can talk to a registered nurse (a real person!) on the phone any time of the day or night by calling 8-1-1. Translation services are available for more than 130 languages. They even have an app!

But, 8-1-1 is more than just nurses! When you first call, you will talk to a Health Service Representative. This person will talk to you about what you are looking for and get you in touch with the right people.

  • Pharmacists – talk about your medications (available every night, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • Dietitians – talk about healthy eating and nutrition (available Monday to Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
  • Nurses – talk about symptoms, procedures, or whether you should go to the doctor for your inquiry (available all day, every day of the year!)

You can even call any time of the day or night to learn where the closest health services to you are, including walk-in clinics, travel clinics, and immunizations.

Bonus tip: Did you know that you can talk to an exercise specialist for free by calling the Physical Activity Line? By talking to them, you can get physical activity guidance tailored to your needs and lifestyle. Their number is 1-877-725-1149. They are available Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I can hear that little voice in your head saying, “It’s great to know that these resources are there, but I’m not going to call them.” Why not?! I challenge you to pick up that phone and to call a nurse next time you are Googling a symptom. Chances are you will get better, more accurate information than using “Dr. Google.”

Have you ever been overwhelmed by health information? Do you think this resource might help you?

Win a $300 GC to help support your healthy habits in 2014!

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.


Healthy eating advice at your fingertips


Visit HealthLink BC online at

We all eat…so we are all nutrition experts, right? I’m not so sure… I do a lot of cooking as we are a family of six, but when it comes to getting the healthy and nutritious choices into the fridge, cupboards and onto the table more often it’s not as easy as it might sound. It’s much the same when supporting healthy eating and building healthy food environments in our workplaces. It doesn’t JUST happen. It takes more effort and thought that one might think. So where can we start?

In BC we have excellent resources from HealthLink BC. To learn more about them I called and chatted with Lori Smart, a Registered Dietitian and Manager of Resource Coordination at HealthLink BC. Did you know that in BC HealthLink BC provides access to non-emergency health information and advice 24/7 and 365 days a year? Information and advice is available free to all of us by telephone, website, mobile app and/or a collection of downloadable print resources.

Information junkie heaven! It’s a convenient place to find BC’s most trusted and recognized health information services, including:

  • BC Health Guide
  • HealthLink BC Files
  • Nursing Services
  • Pharmacist Services
  • Dietitian Services (formerly Dial-a-Dietitian)

Not only are all of these resources brought together in one place, the service is also supported with an online and phone navigation system to help you find the health resources and facilities you need – close to home.

I asked Lori, “What will we find at HealthLink BC?” She said you’ll find medically-approved information on thousands of heath topics, symptoms, medication, and tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if you live on an island or in a remote community because anyone at any time can call 8-1-1 from anywhere in BC and chat with a nurse or speak to a registered dietitian about nutrition and healthy eating.

To check it out and look for resources I started my search — Healthy Eating at Work — and of the 407 hits that came up, 92 were specific to healthy eating, 37 were HealthLink Files. I love HealthLink Files! They are snapshots jam-packed full of great information on key topics of health information. The volume of resources I got from this quick search was really helpful. What a great place to start exploring for resources and for my question around information about healthy eating and links between fiber and vegetable consumption.

So my question was about fiber and vegetables …what’s your question? Go ask it at HealthLink BC, by calling 8-1-1 or visiting

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.)