Healthy Living in the North

Heart Month how-to: Heart attack recognition

Grandfather and granddaughter eating marshmallows.

Do you know the signs of a heart attack? Learn the signs today and take steps to ensure that your family can enjoy many more gatherings and BBQs together!

Imagine this: You are enjoying a BBQ at your grandparents’ home. Your grandmother is standing at the grill, serving up the burgers. When you approach with your plate, you can see she is sweating. It’s hot near the flames, so you don’t pay much attention.

You all sit down at the picnic table with your plates. Everyone is laughing and jostling, but your grandmother looks serious. She says she feels nauseous and lightheaded and wants to lie down.

Just then, your uncle goes over and puts his arm around your grandmother. He speaks quietly in her ear. You can see your grandmother nodding. Within minutes, your uncle is calling 9-1-1 and shortly after, the ambulance arrives. Your grandmother is fine, all because your uncle recognized the signs of a heart attack and knew what to do to help.

Heart attack – the medical term is acute myocardial infarction – occurs when the blood supply to the heart is interrupted. This can happen for different reasons, but it’s usually due to a blockage in one of the arteries in the heart. It’s a life threatening condition and needs immediate treatment.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort – pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning, or heaviness
  • Sweating
  • Upper body discomfort – neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light headedness

These signs may not show up suddenly or seem particularly severe, and different people experience these signs differently. In particular, men and women tend to have different symptoms. The woman in the story above, for instance, never experienced the chest or upper body discomfort so commonly associated with heart attack. This is why it is so important to know these signs and to act immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing any or all of them.

What do you do if you or someone you know has the signs of a heart attack? According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Stop all activity
  3. Take your normal dosage of nitroglycerin (if you take nitroglycerin)
  4. Take Aspirin if you are not allergic to it (either one 325 mg tablet or two 81 mg tablets)
  5. Rest and wait
  6. Keep a list of your medications with you

Knowing the signs of heart attack can help you and others get to treatment quickly and increase the chance of recovery.

If you would like more info about heart conditions such as heart attack, or are looking for prevention and treatment info, visit the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Happy Heart Month!

Jess Place

About Jess Place

Jess Place is the regional manager of chronic diseases strategic planning and evaluation. She has worked in the fields of health, health human resources, and health services for over a decade. The Regional Chronic Diseases program helps northerners in the areas of chronic diseases. It promotes well-being, provides leadership, and operates (or supports the operation of) specialized services in the areas of cancer care, cardiac and stroke care, HIV and hepatitis C care, kidney care, and chronic pain care.


Foodie Friday: The Mediterranean diet featuring tilapia bowls with avocado crema!

Canada’s Food Guide recommends that we eat at least two servings of fish each week but I know from speaking with clients that a lot of us struggle to do this. Fish is a great lean protein and includes many nutrients such as selenium, vitamin D, magnesium and iron, not to mention heart-healthy omega-3 fats!

Fish is also an important part of the Mediterranean diet, which may help to prevent heart disease and type-2 diabetes. The Mediterranean-style diet emphasizes eating foods like fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fibre breads/whole grains, nuts, and olive oil. As February is Heart Month, it’s a great time to reflect on how we can incorporate more of a Mediterranean diet into our day-to-day meal making.

Tilapia bowl with avocado crema

Fish is an important part of the Mediterranean diet, which may help to prevent heart disease and type-2 diabetes. How can you incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your meal-making?

Need a new take on fish? I really like this recipe because it’s quick to assemble, super tasty, and makes for great lunch leftovers! This is definitely not your typical fish recipe (which let’s be honest, can sometimes get a bit boring!). The blackening spices add a whole new depth of flavour and the star of the show here is definitely the avocado crema. You’ll definitely want more!!

So what’s stopping you from trying out the Mediterranean diet?

Tilapia Bowls with Avocado Crema


Tilapia seasoning

  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper

Avocado crema

  • 2 avocado
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 limes (juiced)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Other ingredients

  • 4 tilapia fillets
  • 3 cups cooked rice or quinoa
  • 1 can (15 oz) black beans, rinsed
  • 2 roma tomatoes
  • 2 cups corn kernels
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro (optional)


  1. For avocado crema: combine avocados, Greek yogurt, garlic cloves and juice of 2 limes in a blender or food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Prepare toppings so they are ready to assemble once your fish is cooked: 3 cups cooked rice or quinoa; dice 2 tomatoes; drain & rinse 1 can black beans; reheat corn kernels (I use frozen); prepare cilantro & lime to garnish (optional).
  3. Combine spices for tilapia seasoning on a large plate.
  4. Pat tilapia fillets so they are dry (if they are too wet, the fish will not “blacken”). Coat in seasoning mix. Cook in a non-stick pan over medium heat for ~3 minutes per side until fish is cooked and easily “flakes” apart.
  5. Assemble fish bowls: fill bowls with rice/quinoa. Then top with toppings of your choice and fillet of blackened tilapia. You can dollop the avocado crema on top or fill a Ziploc bag with the crema, cut corner edge and drizzle on top.


Destyni Atchison

About Destyni Atchison

Destyni is a Clinical Dietitian at Fort St. John Hospital and Peace Villa. She has been working with Northern Health for the past two years and also runs her own nutrition consulting business. In her spare time, she enjoys snowshoeing, hiking and developing new recipes for herself and her clients.


Heart Month: Get up, get healthy

Northern Health staff at a Canada Winter Games venue

Throughout the 2015 Canada Winter Games, Northern Health has been asking residents and visitors how they are getting their 150 minutes of physical activity each week. For Heart Month, Zack has some great tips for how to become more active, more regularly and why it’s important to get those 150 minutes!

After a hard day of work in the office or wherever your job may be, it can be difficult to have any ambition left to go out and exercise. I think that it’s fair to say that everyone knows that it’s important to include physical activity and exercise in your day, but knowing that and doing it are two very different things. However, February is Heart Month so it’s a good time to think about the health of your heart! Among the many benefits of physical activity, improving the health of your heart is one of the most important ones.

Not convinced? Some of the ways that physical activity can improve the health of your heart include:

  • Preventing high blood pressure
  • Improving cholesterol levels
  • Reducing stress
  • Improving sleep
  • Improving circulation (which is especially important for older adults)
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes

For those of you who don’t regularly engage in physical activity, there is good news! Research has shown that the greatest improvements in cardiovascular health can be seen in those who change from sedentary to more active lifestyles. This means that it is never too late to get up and start moving, and that your heart will thank you for doing so!

Some people may find the thought of exercising or working out to be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be that way! Studies have shown that many different forms of physical activity can improve your cardiovascular health; it’s about meeting yourself where you’re at and going forward from there. One study showed that exercise in the form of regular physical activity incorporated into everyday living was equally effective at improving cardiovascular health when compared to structured exercise regimens.

Speaking from my experience, I know that regular exercise can be an extremely difficult thing to do and that ambitious intentions can often lead to big disappointments. As a person who has tried very hard to exercise regularly for the past several years and has encountered both challenges and successes, here are my tips to help you become active more regularly and to become a healthier, happier version of yourself:

  • Don’t like it? Don’t do it! Many people I know think that jogging, running, or going on the treadmill or elliptical machine is the ultimate form of exercise for your heart. I disagree! Any activity that increases your heart rate and makes you breathe harder is a cardiovascular workout with the same benefits for your heart! If you’re like me and aren’t a fan of running or elliptical machines, some great forms of cardiovascular exercise that I would suggest are brisk walking, hiking, paddling, bike riding, swimming, snowshoeing, and weight lifting with weights that are light enough for you to do a high number of repetitions. Make sure that whatever you’re doing, you’re enjoying it!
  • Don’t use the scale to measure your success. Your weight is not the best way to measure your health. Healthy bodies exist in a diversity of shapes and sizes! Although physical activity can help you to achieve a healthy weight, there are many other, more important benefits of physical activity for your body.
  • Set realistic, SMART goals. Realize that a small amount of physical activity done regularly is much more beneficial to your health in the long run than short-lived fads of intense exercise.
  • Environmental changes. Once you have the desire to become more active, the next step should be to implement a few small environmental changes to help ensure that you get active by being more organized and making physical activity more convenient. Examples of this would be throwing your running shoes in the car so that you can go for a walk on lunch break, signing up for a gym that is close to your home or on the way from your home to work, or packing your bag with whatever you will need for your activity the next day and putting it right by the door.
  • Find an exercise buddy. Exercising with a friend can not only make your activity more social and enjoyable, but they can often help you get out and be active on those days when you’re not feeling motivated to do so (and you’ll have the same impact on them!). I have often found that when my workout buddy drags me out for exercise on those days when I’m experiencing low energy and low motivation, I come home feeling much better than I ever did before exercising.

Visit the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology for information on Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines or visit the Heart & Stroke Foundation for more information about Heart Month and cardiovascular health.

Zachary Kohlen

About Zachary Kohlen

Zachary Kohlen is a fourth year nursing student at UNBC in Prince George. He is currently completing a practicum for Community Health & Nursing with the Population Health team. Prince George is home to Zack, as he has lived here for the past 14 years. Other than homework and studying, he enjoys snowboarding, swimming, golfing, weight training, hiking and camping. Zack has had the opportunity to take part in a number of health promotion activities with the Northern Health team for the 2015 Canada Winter Games.


February is Heart Month

Six warning signs of a heart attack

Watch for the six warning signs of a heart attack. (Source:

One of my colleagues recently sent me an email with the link for this short and funny video. In her email she asked how having a heart attack could be funny, but said the video was so great that it needed to be shared with all women.

This video makes me think, why do we need a funny video to make women notice that heart disease is the number one killer of women?

I think it’s that women are the caregivers to the family. Just like the Heart and Stroke Foundation video on “Make Death Wait” shows, women are so concerned that heart disease will affect others in our family that we don’t realize that it is actually coming for us.

February is Heart Month and we should be doing all we can to help ourselves! Here are some tips:

  1. Get informed. Seek out information from great sites like Heart and Stroke Foundation – take a look at their “Women and Heart Disease and Stroke” information.
  2. Know your risk. Heart disease and stroke is the leading cause of death for Canadian women. Did you know that most Canadian women have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke? Take the quiz and see what your risk is.
  3. Take control of your health.  We know that if women put their health first by making changes they can reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 80%.

If we can do this for ourselves, our girlfriends, our best friends, our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, our nieces and granddaughters, we can hopefully all live a little longer and a little happier.

Barbara Hennessy

About Barbara Hennessy

Barbara Hennessy is Northern Health’s regional coordinator for cardiac & cerebrovascular services, and is very passionate about improving cardiac and cerebrovascular health for people of the north. Barbara has a Master’s in Nursing from Dalhousie University, with a specialty in adult cardiac population. In her previous roles in cardiac nursing, Barbara has worked in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and – saving the best for last – B.C.! In her spare time, Barbara loves reading, crafting, biking and seeing the beauty across northern B.C.