Healthy Living in the North

Gathering with food: northern voices

In March, we celebrated Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, dietitians across Canada highlighted food’s potential, including the ability of food to bring us together. In support of this theme, Northern Health held a photo contest, asking northern community members to submit photos of themselves eating together with family, friends, or co-workers, with a brief description of what eating together means to them.

It’s inspiring to see how our communities come together over food and we wanted to highlight the wonderful submissions we received. These posts have some common themes, including:

  • Meal and snack times provide an opportunity to connect with loved ones.
  • Life can be quite busy, so having some time to gather, relax, and celebrate food can improve your physical, mental, and emotional health.
  • Food also teaches valuable life skills, such as teamwork, food preparation, sharing, and many more!

In the following pictures, it’s clear that families across the north use mealtime to connect with loved ones. These are some of the responses to our question, what does eating together mean to you?

family eating together.

Food brings us together in many ways. Teaching kids cooking basics, manners, team-work (by setting and clearing the table or unloading the dishwasher), sharing, and serving [the food].  Then there is the conversation while seated together, sharing a meal…conversations are best around the dinner table with 3 boys!” -Colleen from Prince George

family time together.

My husband and I always make a point of sitting down together to eat; we need this time to reconnect.” -Brenda from Dawson Creek

family eating together.

Food brings us unity and strengthens our bond as a family and as a community. We gather and share foods. While eating, we share our happy experiences and concerns.” -Marian from Prince George

family eating together.

Sitting down to eat together gives us a chance to connect, catch up on the day, or start the day together. It helps us bond as a family!” -Michelle from Prince George

family meal photo.

Some of my fondest memories have been centered on food… from social and family gatherings to parties and celebrations… I associate the smiles, laughter, and fun with how food can really bring people together, through simple preparation, eating together or cleaning up the last of the skimmings.” -Pamela from Prince George

Thanks again to all who submitted fantastic entries to our Nutrition Month contest, and a special shout-out to our contest winner, Marian from Prince George! While we enjoyed reading each of the submissions, Marian’s collage of pictures really demonstrated the variety of ways in which food can bring us together, through food preparation, cooking, and eating!

Explore some of our other blog posts to see how food can bring us together:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel Burton is part of Northern Health’s team of population health dietitians, and is the food security lead for the vast region that comprises northern BC. Laurel is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health. Her work focuses on the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel has supported food security work in a variety of geographical regions, and has worked with groups across the lifecycle, within BC, and internationally, to support community and regional food systems development, for the aim of optimizing health. In her spare time, Laurel loves a good book, a hike in the woods with friends, or spending time at home baking sourdough bread, surrounded by her many, many houseplants.

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Removing barriers to social isolation

This is the second in a series of posts that we’ll be sharing about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next three weeks, we want to see how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Woman pushing man in wheelchair from bus to seniors centre.

How can you ensure that your community is inclusive and that people of all ages are able to connect?

I’ve heard the term “social isolation” being used a lot lately, but what does it mean? And how does it affect my health and well-being and the health and well-being of my family and community?

According to the Federal / Provincial / Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors, social isolation happens when a person experiences less social contact than they would like, which may lead to negative impacts like poor health, loneliness or other emotional distress. I’m sure everyone has experienced feeling social isolated; I know I certainly have when I’ve moved away from family and friends to new communities. But did you know that seniors are more at risk of social isolation and the negative health impacts that come with it?

As part of the normal aging process, seniors experience changes that shrink social contacts and limit activities, such as physical changes (like illness or disability), changes to personal lives (like losing a partner and social connections), social changes (like poverty) and changes in the environment (like accessibility barriers in the environment). All of these changes increase seniors’ vulnerability to social isolation and the consequences – such as loneliness, depression, poor physical and mental health, and reduced quality of life – are significant.

I know the impacts of social isolation sound scary, but the good news is that we are social by nature and we can prevent social isolation through creating environments that support social inclusion. We all have a role to play!

Crowd of people at Prince George Terry Fox Run.

How can you take down barriers to social connections in your community? The next time that you head to a community event – like the Terry Fox Run in Prince George – ask a senior if they need a ride or invite a neighbour to come along!

Here are just a few suggestions that I can think of that promote social inclusion and support us all to stay connected to our families, friends and communities as we age:

  • Are you a member of a community group, sports team, or social group? Host an open house, invite a friend or co-worker to join, and create a welcoming environment for new members!
  • Heading to a community event like a concert, craft fair, or farmers market? Ask around to see if anyone needs a ride to or from the event. Invite a neighbour to go to the event with you.
  • Invite a colleague, senior, neighbour or family member to have coffee, lunch or dinner! Eating together is a social activity and an opportunity to catch up and share stories.
  • Volunteer in your community. You can support a cause you believe in, meet like-minded people, and connect with vulnerable community members!
  • Connect with your local government about how we can plan for an age-friendly community that prevents social isolation.

What do you think? Do you have any examples on how to create inclusive environments for seniors in northern B.C., reducing the harms associated with social isolation? If so, show us as part of our photo contest for your chance to share your community’s story and win!

Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 2 is: “Show us how your community is inclusive!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

About Sabrina Dosanjh-Gantner

Sabrina is the lead for healthy community development with local governments with Northern Health’s population health team. Sabrina was born and raised in Terrace and loves calling northern BC home. She has been with Northern Health since 2007 and is passionate about empowering, supporting and partnering with northern communities as we collaboratively work towards building healthier communities. In her spare time, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, playing and (sometimes obsessively) watching sports, hiking, camping, traveling and exploring the amazing north.

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An old guy thinks out loud

This is the first in a series of posts that we’ll be sharing about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next four weeks, we want to see how you, your family, and your community stay connected. Enter our photo contest for your chance at great weekly prizes and a grand prize valued at $250!

Man and woman talking

For Andrew, healthy aging is not just about moving away from illness and infirmity. Instead, it’s about moving toward a positive – and social connections are a key part of this!

How did I know I was old? Was it when the waitress asked me if I wanted the seniors menu? Was it when my granddaughter asked: “Was it really like that in the olden days, Papa?” Was it when I met my new doctor and thought (but didn’t say) “I have kids older than you …”? Hard to say, but likely I became aware of my aging status because of all three and others I don’t recall.

There’s a lot to gripe about as you get older. Things don’t work as well as they used to and a lot of conversations seem to turn to health concerns and to drugs … discussions about blood pressure and cholesterol lowering combinations, etc.

But there are so many wonderful things about aging, especially when you’re able to age healthily. You have more free time. You can speak your mind and share your stories (people will either respect what you say or cut you some slack because you’re old). You get seniors’ discounts. There’s more, but I’ll get to the point.

There are things we all need to do to age well. Chances are you’ve heard advice about diet and exercise, avoiding isolation, steering clear of tobacco and practicing moderation with alcohol. These are important, but let’s look at things differently. A lot of this advice is presented as ways to avoid getting sick, to avoid physical and mental deterioration. While true, there is a deeper perspective and a lot of it has to do with the benefits of social connectedness:

  • You can approach diet with an eye to nutrition, vitamins, calories and so forth. Add to that the social and emotional experience of preparation and sharing meals. Make mealtimes an opportunity for connection to others and for social interaction.
  • Exercise is a great way to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar but it also feels good. Finding exercise opportunities you enjoy is rewarding in itself. (For me, it’s riding a bike and swimming.) Right now is a good time to walk through the park and enjoy the fall colours. Walking with others is a chance to enjoy connections to others.
  • Having a drink in social situations is a part of life for a lot of us. Consider what makes socializing enjoyable and what is safe for you. Moderation increases the enjoyment of social events.

Sharing stories, playing games and finding opportunities to connect with others in social settings can be fun as well as keeping us mentally and emotionally sharp. Volunteer opportunities can be a way to meet a range of people, to stimulate your mind and to help others in their life journey.

Honoring ourselves by caring for our good health can be thought of as moving away from illness and infirmity or it can be a way to find more and deeper satisfaction in life. I find moving toward a positive more appealing than moving away from a negative.

How do you move towards the positive when it comes to health? How does your community support active, healthy, social living? Show us as part of our photo contest for your chance to share your community’s story and win!

Photo Contest

From Oct. 12 – Nov. 8, send in a photo showing how you stay connected and healthy for your chance to win great prizes (including a $250 grand prize) and help your community!

The challenge for Week 1 is: “Show us how you are active in your community!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

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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Show us how you stay connected and win!

This fall, we’re running a contest (launching next week – stay tuned!) to share your stories of connecting and community! We want your photos and we’re giving you the chance to win $250 just for showing us how you stay connected!

Photo on top of a blanket.

A photo of Holly and her grandma on top of a blanket that her grandma made. How do you engage in deeper, richer connections in your community, and how can we ensure that others who are vulnerable, such as seniors, are valued and supported to connect, too?

I always looked forward to visiting my grandmother when I was young. She taught me to knit scarves for my Barbie dolls, we went on outings to the mall and the bakery, and she let me help make her famous cherry cheesecake tarts – which we then delivered as gifts to local shopkeepers.

As an adult, I also came to recognize that my Gram was extremely involved in her community. She would chat regularly with all the ladies in the wool department at Sears, she volunteered with the Canadian Cancer Society selling daffodils every April, she belonged to and regularly attended “the club” (the local seniors centre), and she was skilled in the crafts of sewing and knitting, often working on special projects for others.

I now realize how lucky I was to have the time with her that I did, as well as how fortunate she was to be healthy enough to drive, to have access to opportunities, and to have family close by. Too often, we hear of people getting older, losing their independence and their social networks, and lacking the support to keep contributing to, and stay involved in, the communities they love. Without a doubt, this has a negative effect on their health.

Here in northern B.C., our population is aging at a much faster rate than the rest of the province. Combine that with the fact that our region is spread over an area the size of France, many of our communities are rural and remote, and most of us have seven cold and snowy winter months and what do you get? A population of aging adults who have a lot of hurdles to jump just to get out the front door!

It’s time to change this story! I want all people – young, old, and everywhere in between – from all communities to benefit from staying engaged the way that my Gram benefited and the way that connecting with her benefited me!

This fall, we’re running a contest (launching next week – stay tuned!) to share your stories of connecting and community! We want your photos and we’re giving you the chance to win $250 just for showing us how you stay connected!

We want to draw attention to the importance of fostering welcoming and inclusive communities and the idea of social connectedness. How can we engage in deeper, richer connections in our own communities, and how can we ensure that others who are vulnerable, such as seniors, are valued and supported to connect, too?

The Ask:

Each week, we will post a theme related to social connectedness and ask that you submit an original photo related to that theme. Starting October 12, the contest page will be updated with a new photo category. And keep your eyes on the Northern Health Matters blog for great content to inspire you on the health benefits of social inclusion, how to support aging with dignity, and more!

The Prizes:

Each week, we will draw for a prize from all of the submissions for that week. At the end of the contest, a grand prize will be awarded to the photo from the entire contest period that best showcases the meaning of social connectedness – and that inspiring photographer will win $250 to put towards a healthy living facility or activity in their community.

So get your cameras and smart phones ready – the contest will be starting soon and I can’t wait to see how you, your family, friends, and community support social connectedness!

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.

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