Healthy Living in the North

Drop and give me twenty!

Army patch

The shoulder patch of the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group. Reg was a part of Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians), which is an armoured regiment in the brigade. There, he learned a lot about motivation and physical activity!

The New Year is upon us and no doubt many of us are setting goals to become more physically active. If you’re one of those people, I have a question for you: How motivated are you?

If you don’t feel motivated, have you thought about joining the army? I can tell you from experience that it works! But why does it work so well?

One is that the army ensured that I got regular physical exercise. No matter what the weather, there was always the physical training that I took part in, no exceptions, no complaints allowed.

Second, the army has a set of specific goals and objectives that I was expected to meet. It has very specific, measurable goals, like being able to run a kilometer within a certain amount of time. Not to mention pushups!

Soldiers marching

Footage from Reg’s graduation parade.

And then there was the built-in motivator, otherwise known as the Master Corporal (the Canadian version of the Drill Sargent in basic training). He was the guy barking at me as I moaned and groaned my way through the obstacle course. Master Corporals weren’t always nice in their “motivational methods,” but you know what, for me, it worked. I ran that kilometer and did those pushups. I made it through the obstacle course.

Then again, it’s not necessary to join the army if you’re looking to get more physically active. But in reflecting on my own time, I think that some of the principles are the same and definitely taught me a lot. You need to make time for physical activity and do it. You need to set SMART goals and strive to reach them. You need to find your motivation.

I often see the scale or body measurements used as motivators. While it’s important to measure your progress towards your goals in other ways (like how many minutes of activity you did today), don’t get hung up on those numbers. Health is measured in more ways than pounds or inches. For some, buying something special upon reaching a milestone can be a motivator. However, that might not work in the end and it’s possible that your motivation may falter between milestones.

So, what are you to do?

Motivation needs to come from within if it’s going to last. Here are some suggestions for building up your motivation:

  • Make sure that you find ways to be active that you enjoy. Find activities that keep you coming back.
  • Focus on the experience. Enjoy the surroundings if you’re outside. Enjoy the camaraderie of team sports. Enjoy the solitude if you’re on your own.
  • Learn to recognize and appreciate the health benefits of being active. Enjoy your improved mood and increased energy.
  • Engage in physical activity as a way to reward yourself. A nice walk down a forest trail is a great way to relax after a long day at the office.
  • Keep challenging yourself. Walk an extra ten minutes or lift that extra ten pounds.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate your successes.

A medal from Reg’s time peacekeeping in Cyprus. What did his time in the army teach him about physical activity and setting SMART goals?

It can also help to let people know about your goals and ask them to help you stay on track. If your motivation slips a little, they’ll let you know (sort of like the Master Corporal did for me!).

I have to admit, writing this blog rekindled some great memories from the old army days.

Q: Is having a Master Corporal shouting in my ear one of them?

A: No.

Q: Would I push harder if he was standing there “motivating me?”

A: You bet I would.

As much as I enjoy the memories and the lessons, I’m not re-enlisting in the army for the motivation – not even for the food or the cool uniforms! But I’ll definitely use the things I learned about motivation to stay physically active in 2016!

The only person responsible for motivating you to be physically active is you.

Unless you join the army, and they take that responsibility very seriously, even when you don’t.

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.


Tales from the Man Cave: Motivation

Family walking outside. Text of the SMART goal acronym overlaid on picture

SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. For Jim, adding evaluation and repetition makes goals SMARTER!

I woke up this morning with a certain melancholy.

We all have days where we feel less motivated and more melancholic. As I sat and struggled to even begin to write, I suddenly knew that I had found my topic completely by chance: motivation.

Everything requires motivation and there is even a whole realm of psychology dedicated to it.

  • How do I make healthier choices?
  • How do I begin to eat healthier?
  • How do I get myself to move more often?

These are tough questions to tackle. I know that if I get up today, there is a good chance I will just continue on with my old habits. For lots of us, change is just not that easy.

I was looking for something different and I found it in SMART goals. SMART goals support healthy lifestyle changes by being Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For me, I want my goals to be SMARTER, so I added Evaluate and Repeat.

Here are Jim’s SMARTER goals. Come on, Jim, let’s give it a try!

  • Make it specific, like walking for 20 minutes each day. Choose your desired change and set a goal for yourself.
  • Your goal needs to be measurable so you can see progress. Make a little chart. Put it somewhere you can tick off your progress.
  • Make sure it’s something achievable and that you can do it. Your goal might be to run the Boston marathon but you need to crawl before you can walk.
  • It’s very important that your goal is relevant to your main desire. Walking 20 minutes a day could be a relevant goal for the desire to run a marathon.
  • This leads us to the next piece: set an end date for your goal. Make sure you don’t sabotage yourself here. This is also a very important evaluation date.

Your goal should be realistic and be achievable within a certain time frame. This is a key element. Set small goals in small time periods.

In my example, I would say if the overall goal is to run a marathon, the specific goal might be to walk 20 minutes every day for three weeks. That’s all – but that’s also SMART.

For your goal to be SMARTER, the next step is to evaluate your progress. This is perhaps the most important part. Often when we do this, we may become disappointed. We may feel like we only achieved half our goal if we were only able to walk on certain days. If that was the case, I say: “Great! It was a success then. You moved!”

Your evaluation should accommodate this new information. Finally, you need to repeat the process.

If your first goal was not as realistic as you had hoped, set a more realistic goal, such as walking 20 minutes every other day. Create a new chart and tick those boxes. When you have achieved and evaluated your new goal, set another one and push the bar slightly higher than before.

Now it’s 25 minutes of walking every other day. Soon you will be jogging.

You can always shoot for the moon and land among the stars, but be sure to keep one solid, SMARTER foot on earth.

Good luck.

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.


Caption contest winners

Thank you for all of your captions!

Thank you for all of your captions!

Our caption contest has come to an end, and we’d like to say a gigantic “thank you” to everyone who participated! Congratulations to our grand prize winner, Jane Daigle from Prince George, who won a $300 GC, which she plans on spending on a new bike to use when the snow melts! Also, congratulations to Stacie Johnson from Prince George and Wendy from Smithers, both of whom won a $50 GC each to support their healthy goals for 2014! (All prize winners were randomly selected.)

The winning posts were:

  • “Forget paddleboard yoga – Vancouver has nothing on us Northerners!” – Jane on the ski-yoga picture.
  • “Going mean with the greens” – Wendy on the green smoothie picture.
  • “Don’t hibernate like a bear, get out and enjoy the sunny #healthynorth” – Stacie on our winter hibernation picture.

We had an astounding 232 captions submitted, with some of our favourites highlighted in the most popular photos below (see gallery). Entries ranged from the inspiring to the motivational and the funny to the downright sensible. We hope that you return to these captions if you’re having trouble sticking to your healthy goals by visiting our Facebook fan page or our Twitter feed and, hopefully, finding a voice that speaks to you to help you stay on track. The Northern Health Matters blog is another outstanding resource where you can find real stories, advice, and health tips from real people to assist with your healthy lifestyle choices for this year and beyond.

Once again, “thank you!”


Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.


Motivating change

A device that measures your healthy activity and the smart phone where the info is displayed.

You can combine fitness and technology to help keep you healthy goals on track.

A few weeks ago, I wrote to you about New Year’s resolutions and setting up a plan to help you succeed. I have my S.M.A.R.T. goal written down to keep me on track, so how can I fail?!? If only it were that easy! This follow-up piece is to talk about motivation. Outside of having my wife, family, and friends support me to help me stay motivated, self-talk and a few props can go a long way in filling some gaps!

What happens when I miss my workout or smoke a cigarette or eat that extra rich dessert? At that point, negative self-talk has the potential to derail everything. How many times have you said to yourself, “I have blown it,” “I can’t do it,” “I am weak,” or “I am a failure?” Our self-esteem takes a hammering and makes it hard for us to do anything other than return to the behaviour we wish to change. Often, this leads us to continue to undo all of the good work we have accomplished.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Many studies have shown that kind and positive self-talk is the most effective thing you can do to stay true to your goals. “I am worthy,” “I can do this,” “I lasted two weeks last time and I can do better this time.” Try it the next time you have a setback. It has been shown that during a quit attempt from smoking, kind self-talk is as effective as nicotine replacement therapy.

Finally, as someone who enjoys technology, I have become very interested in wearable health devices and smartphone apps. For about $100 you can purchase a device to monitor and track your daily steps (for example, a Fitbit). This is a great way to see if you are as active as you think you are, track your daily and weekly goals, and even share your journey with friends and colleagues for some healthy competition.

 In 2013, it is estimated that over 35,000 apps are dedicated to health and fitness.

In recent years, the market for apps has exploded. You can find an app to do just about anything. I have an app that tracks my goals and sends me reminders when I need to run or exercise. I also have an app that counts my pushups when I touch my phone with my nose and cheers when I reach my daily targets. With these props, I am all set for motivating my new routine. I can hardly wait to get started!

You can also use SMS text messages to keep your motivation levels high. Two of my colleagues agreed to send each other a motivational, supportive message each day to keep on track. It’s a simple and effective plan and, so far, they are both reporting a positive impact to their healthy goals.

Power-up your self-esteem in 2014; Take control and imagine how healthy and happy the “future you” will be. The time you spend building resilience will pay dividends in the future. Be inspired and become the inspiration for your family and friends. You can do it!

What do you do to keep yourself motivated for change?

Michael Melia

About Michael Melia

Michael Melia is the director for northwest mental health and addiction services. He is a registered psychiatric nurse and has a bachelor’s of science in nursing and has recently completed a master’s in business administration. Michael is serving as an elected board member for the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses. When not working, he enjoys spending time with family, keeping fit and exploring rural B.C.


New habits; old friends

Pumpin' iron at CrossFit.

Pumpin’ iron at CrossFit.

Since finishing grad school, I’ve worked really hard to make physical activity a greater part of my life. It’s not easy making it a habit. I have to continuously work to motivate myself to keep the new habits. Willpower alone would not help me keep my habits; I need to create an environment to support my success.

I had found a great group of people that are totally supportive of my fitness endeavours. The community support is unlike any other “gym” I’ve ever been to. I’ve tried lots of fitness styles in the past: boot camps, spin class, and my own programming, but I, personally, like CrossFit the best (so far).

However, after I had finally made fitness part of my lifestyle and had maintained this for some time, I had coffee with an old friend and the conversation turned a corner in a way that I wasn’t expecting. This is my recollection of how it went down:

We met up like every other coffee date, ordered our drinks and settled in. When you try to catch up after a long time, it can take a while to come around to what is going on. The conversation finally came around to fitness and my friend told me she was a little offended by me.

I didn’t know what to say – I was shocked, I was confused, and I was a little mad. What did my health habits have to do with her? I had invited her to take part in my active hobbies on many occasions, but she had shown no interest what so ever. Why couldn’t my friend just be happy that I was doing so much better?!

After much thinking, I realized that my health habits had a lot to do with her and many of my other friends and family members. The friendships were based on similar lifestyles and habits and I had changed mine. In improving my personal health habits, I had found a new supportive network. In the eyes of my friends and family, I had left them behind.

None of this was intentional. My focus was on being healthier and I was spending more time with people who motivated and inspired me to change. The research shows that we need positive support networks to make health habit changes. The World Health Organization even states that “greater support from families, friends and communities is linked to better health.”

What the research doesn’t tell you is that sometimes, to make room for new healthy habits, you have to leave old (unhealthy) habits behind. You have to be open to developing new networks of support and – if you are not paying close attention – this can exclude people that you love and care about. You can do your best to bring them along, but what if they don’t want to come?

Have you made changes to support your health in the past? How did this change your relationships with “old” friends?

Enter our caption contest for your chance to win a $300 GC to help support your healthy habits.

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.


A SMART start to the new year

As we approach 2014 many of us will be thinking about making lifestyle changes to improve our health: eat more vegetables, exercise more, stop smoking, and countless other things we would like to change. But, what will it take to be successful? How will we know when we have reached our goal?

I would like to share some of the things I have learned about making healthy lifestyle changes over the years.  Making lasting change is never easy and every one of us needs support from friends, family and colleagues to master these personal challenges.

First, you need to “do it your way.”  Take time to reflect on when you have been successful in the past.  How did it feel and what helped you that time?  For example, it took me 22 years of marriage to work out that all I need to do is tell my wife all about the healthy change I want to make, repeatedly, and in great detail.  That’s all it takes, after so much “talk” how can I do anything but carry on?  Sorry, Julie and thank you for your patience!

S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time bound.

It also helps to write out S.M.A.R.T. goals and keep them somewhere you can see them. Below, I share with you the plan I have developed for one of my current goals:

Specific: Over the next seven weeks I will build up to complete 100 pushups in a workout session.

Measurable: I will train three times a week and keep a written record.

Achievable:  I am confident that I can achieve this goal.  I am reasonably fit and desire to increase my upper body strength and technique accordingly.

Realistic:  I am committed to maintaining an exercise routine and there just so happens to be a book and training program to meet this goal.

Time bound:  I will start on January 1st and finish on February 19th.

So there you have it. I have some understanding of how to keep motivated. I will tell my wife all about my plan and progress toward my goal.  Fortunately, after 24 years, she has learned to tune me out, and cheer me on at the same time.

Other things that motivate me are some apps that I have downloaded to my smartphone. Many are free and some have a minimal charge. In my next article, I will tell you about some of these apps and what I like about them.

What are some of the health goals you are setting for yourself in 2014?

Michael Melia

About Michael Melia

Michael Melia is the director for northwest mental health and addiction services. He is a registered psychiatric nurse and has a bachelor’s of science in nursing and has recently completed a master’s in business administration. Michael is serving as an elected board member for the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses. When not working, he enjoys spending time with family, keeping fit and exploring rural B.C.


Finding your motivation

Dogs are great motivation

Having a dog friend can be great motivation to get moving!

Motivation is key when it comes time to make healthier life choices. My motivation is a 5-year-old pug-beagle cross named Puggles. If not for our walks around the neighborhood, my desire to get active would easily be trumped by homework or chores.  When I look at those big brown eyes I am compelled to take him for his much loved walks. The benefits are equal for both me and Puggles – increased stamina, that happy feeling after exercise and a longer, healthier life. It’s funny how being responsible for someone else’s health (and yes I do consider my dog a person) can motivate you to consider your own. I am aware that my dog lacks the brain function to exercise himself when required and to make his own healthy choices. I, however, am fully capable of making healthy choices for the both of us. This sense of responsibility is a constant motivation to get active and make healthy choices. Your motivation may differ from my own, maybe instead of a dog you have children, siblings or a spouse who serve as your motivation. Motivation is important in living a healthy lifestyle and as stated in Northern Health’s Position Paper on Healthy Communities: When people make healthy choices, we know they will live longer, healthier lives.

Being realistic when setting your goals is important; you wouldn’t run a two-minute mile the first time you put on your runners. Instead, keep track of the progress you have made – finding out you beat your previous record can be exhilarating. Finding a healthy recipe that also looks and tastes great will impress your family and friends, not to mention improve your overall health. Puggles and I began with our 30 minutes walks around the neighborhood, always stopping at a nearby park to sniff around (him, not me).  In recent weeks we have increased our walking time to 45 minutes and I have challenged myself to increase that time on a weekly basis. I can admit to missing the occasional day or two, but walking Puggles three times a week puts me pretty close to the World Health Organizations recommended 150 minutes of exercise a week. Also, having support when engaging in a healthy lifestyle can make a lot of difference and will encourage you to stick with your choices. Support systems can be friends, pets or members of your community – like walking groups or farmers’ markets. No one wants to be the one who ditches friends for a weekly exercise class or tell their significant other to take a late night stroll solo. I know my dog may not live to be 90, but making healthier choices for us both will ensure we can make the most of our time together. And who knows, with the right healthy choices I may be blowing out the candles on my own 90th birthday!

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “when people make healthy choices we know they will live longer, healthier lives” means to Jasmine and Meghan. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Men's Health Nursing Students

About Men's Health Nursing Students

Jasmine Ford is a fourth year nursing student currently doing a practicum with the men’s health program. Jasmine grew up on Vancouver Island and has been living in the north for five years while completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her passions include working in physical rehabilitation and long term care. Meghan McQuhae is a fourth year nursing student currently doing a practicum with the men’s health program. Meghan grew up in the Fraser Valley, and has been living in Prince George for five years while completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Her passion is working in the acute care field of nursing.