Healthy Living in the North

Aging with dignity, respect and purpose

This is the last in a series of posts about social connections and healthy aging. You’ve got one week left to show us 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!

Three people posing for photo following a running race.

Supported by family in more ways than one, Holly’s recent marathon finish provided her with a chance to reflect on our aging journeys and the importance of supporting everyone to age with dignity, respect and purpose.

On a recent vacation back home, I was reminded of the impacts of aging in my own family.

I got to spend some time with my two remaining grandparents. They are now in their nineties (92 and 95, to be exact) and both of them continue to live in their own homes. Due to recent health issues, they have had to become more reliant on family and neighbours to help with tasks like putting out the garbage, gardening and rides to and from their many health care appointments. Both are strong women who have raised large families, and neither likes that they have to ask others for help. Seeing them, I was reminded of why social connections like the ones we’ve been talking about for the last month on this blog are so important to helping seniors age in place.

In a different generation, my father, a lifelong runner, just celebrated his 65th birthday and had planned on commemorating the event by running another marathon with myself and my siblings. However, after suffering a knee injury, he was told that running was no longer an option for him and he was not able to take part. Although my brother and I ran in his honour, I know that my dad was sad that he couldn’t run right along with us and participate in an activity which has been a part of his identity.

For me, the common threads that weave these experiences together are dignity, respect and purpose.

We leave school and charge into our early twenties looking for purpose. Seeking respect in our jobs, life, and from our family and friends. From that – and especially through our independence – we develop a sense of dignity or satisfaction that we have worth and value in the world.

However, as we age, those skills and abilities that we have worked so hard to grow start to slowly chip away. Our mobility may decrease. Our memories are no longer as sharp. Our roles and responsibilities as employees or parents may decrease. We spend our leisure time differently. In the later stages of aging, many of the tasks that many of us take for granted (driving, bathing, cooking our own meals, etc.) are often reassigned as well. We may start to question our purpose and our worth, our sense of self.

But just because someone has a wrinkle or two doesn’t mean that they don’t have worth, purpose, or dignity. And this very thought can have serious health impacts. The idea that older adults can’t or shouldn’t be given the same opportunities as others is referred to as ageism – “the most tolerated social prejudice in Canada.” Countering ageism – supporting everyone to age with dignity, respect and purpose – is key to keeping our communities and loved ones healthy.

We can do more to support people to age with dignity, respect and purpose. In health care, we’ve already made great advances in how we support seniors to live more independently, but what about in our own lives? Do you recognize the contributions of seniors in your community? Do you recruit and engage adults of all ages in planning and projects? Do you reach out to older adults who may be shy with a phone call or a visit?

Our previous healthy aging blog posts have talked about the significance of removing barriers to inclusion as people age. They’ve also highlighted the importance of bringing the generations together, whether within a family or a community to support the sharing of stories, skills and information. Volunteering our time and staying connected with social groups also give us meaningful work to do. Being included and having a role to play is a great way to show someone that they’re needed and valued – at any age.

“Being accorded dignity and respect as elders in the community contributes to preserving a sense of well-being, including the ability to share knowledge, having a purpose and feeling as though one is making a difference.” Let’s Talk about Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness, Northern Health, 2013

So, as we all continue on our own aging journeys, let us be mindful of the ways in which we show value to those who have gone on ahead of us and gratefulness to those younger than us who have our backs. Sharing running stories and training advice with my dad was so valuable to me, and his purpose as a “runner” was served in a different way. However, sharing the experience with my brother (he is 16 years my junior) gave me new-found respect for the abilities of my aging body.


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 4 is: “Show us how older adults volunteer in your community!” Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

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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The Stigma Stompers

Three runners

The Stigma Stompers just finished their half marathon in Vancouver. Along the way, they discovered that running had a really positive impact on their mental wellness.

Yesterday, Rai wrote about running to give her mind a little breathing space. Here’s my story of our road to running a half marathon:

It all began with the motivation to improve our physical wellness. What we found, though, was a huge improvement on our mental health as well!

As full-time working mothers with young children at home, time to enjoy extracurricular activities is limited so we started using our lunch hours and hiking up Terrace Mountain behind our office building. We would set out, huffing and puffing, until we reached the half-hour mark, then turn around.

Gradually, we felt stronger and got a little bit further each week. Then we started running parts of the trail. From this achievement, we somehow made the leap to making the decision to train for a half marathon, choosing the BMO race in Vancouver on May 3rd.

Through the experience of training to reach our goal, we have done some research on not only good running form and technique, but also on the reasons why people actually run. It’s not always fun waking up early, running in all types of weather conditions (we do live in the north, after all!), or running during lunch hours and spending the afternoon at work feeling sweaty. With our eyes on the goal of running 21 km in May, we initially had to force ourselves to run longer and longer distances, but with time, we actually started to look forward to our training runs. The sense of accomplishment, camaraderie, and support we both feel from this endeavour is incredibly motivating, not to mention the fact that our community has really come together to support us!

We chose to run the BMO half marathon in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association and have named ourselves the “Stigma Stompers.” Two members of the community heard about us and also joined our team, and yet another community member is volunteering her time to manage our Facebook page and coordinate our fundraising efforts.

The positive effects this training has had on our stress levels and mental alertness throughout the day have (so far) surpassed any of the physical ailments along the way!

What are you waiting for?

Melanie Abbott

About Melanie Abbott

Melanie is a social worker, currently working as a mental health and addictions clinician in Terrace. She started out her social work career in the north in Prince Rupert with the Ministry of Children and Family Development before moving to the Okanagan where she worked for a non-profit organization supporting families and children. Melanie has also done international volunteer work and is a board member for Some Day Is Now International, supporting women and children in South Sudan. When she is not working or training for a half-marathon, Melanie is spending time with her husband and two young children, 1 and 3.

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Making a little breathing space

Three people running outdoors in the winter.

Mental Health Week is the perfect time to ask what you can do to invest in your mental wellness. For Rai, it’s about giving her mind a little breathing space – which she did while running at lunch time!

I think. A lot. In fact, my mind rather resembles the ticker tape along the bottom of CNN. Or, rather, CNN, Fox, CBC, Global, CTV, and BBC News 24 at the same time. All whirling with lists, schedules and responsibilities. It’s often overwhelming.

I had taken on a new health challenge about two years ago as a way of working out stress. It appears that it had not really worked since I think that I acquired at least another 2 ticker tapes along the way.

As team leader to a large, busy and vibrant team, I always talked about self-care and creating a healthy work-life balance. Yet I struggled to practise what I preached. I even found that trying to make time for exercise became a chore in and of itself. It was only when a new colleague started with the team and expressed a desire to get back into a fitness regime that I became inspired. We formed a partnership where we dedicated 3 lunch hours each week to exercise. Three hours of my time. Not work, not family, but time for me.

I’d never been a runner and when the hikes up Terrace Mountain developed into 5 km runs, I started to look at my form and asked myself why I often struggled to keep going. I discovered that not only do I think a lot, I talk a lot. I needed to be quiet.

To run effectively, you need to breathe, not talk incessantly. So when my running became more serious and I made the commitment to run a half marathon, I really needed to stop talking and start breathing – breathing properly and thinking about my breathing.

By default, I started to practice mindfulness. I quieted my mind (this is no small feat, trust me!). I focused on my breath and on my feet making contact with the ground. I managed to push my ticker tapes to the back of my mind for 30 minute chunks during the week and for 2 hours on the weekends. As a result, I came back from my lunch runs ready to tackle the afternoon. I had given my brain a break while my body got to work.

I just finished my half marathon last weekend and now I plan to continue using running as a way to improve my physical and my mental health. I’ll put new challenges in place and run in new locations, all the while giving my mind a little breathing space.

Rai Read

About Rai Read

Rai has worked for Northern Health for nearly 18 months, starting out as the CRU (community response unit) clinician in Terrace before stepping into the interim team leader position. She came to Terrace after working in as a geriatric nurse in Edmonton, AB and prior to that, working as a psychiatric nurse in Cardiff, Wales. She is passionate about promoting healthy living and nutrition, and thinks it’s key to understand how hard it is to fit everything in to a busy life. Rai is a strong believer is making lots of small positive changes and keeping a good sense of humor.

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Staying motivated for healthy changes

Two runners outside

A group, team, or friend is a great way to stay motivated as you work towards your physical activity goals. The common goal of wanting to be more active brought Theresa’s group of activity seekers to marathons, local races, and other fitness goals!

If you put us all in the same room we look like a real rag, tag and bobtail crew. We are different ages, sizes, races and genders. However, we all have one thing in common: we all want to be more active. More specifically, we want to find ways of being more active that won’t worsen other injuries or ailments acquired over the years.

My northern group of activity seekers have settled on running. We are all on a journey to run a race. For some, it is a marathon (42 km); for others, it’s a half-marathon (21 km) or other race distance (8 km). They are personal fitness goals and we are all at different stages of that journey. Some of us are still using training wheels. Some of us run up the sides of mountains on a regular basis. But there are no differences in the levels of support and encouragement that each of us offers another.

Some of us are aiming for the Totem to Totem half-marathon on Haida Gwaii as our first racing endeavour. Others are aiming for the BMO Vancouver Marathon or Half-Marathon event (May 2015). These events are far enough away to seem possible at this point and fear has not yet kicked in. Yet, there is more to all this than standing at the start line and running to cross the finish line. Paying attention to nutrition, to exercising muscles, and to building stamina are all equally important to running well.

It motivates me to see this disparate group of people tackling the physical challenges of a race and the emotional and psychological barriers that interfere with putting it all out there. As we are all Northern Health staff, we are also really putting Northern Health’s words and policies around increasing physical activity and reducing sedentary behaviour into action. We really want our northern communities to get healthier and we can’t ask of others what we cannot do ourselves. And truly, if we can do it – then anyone can. We’ve set goals for ourselves and have stitched together a seemingly odd group of supporters, but we all believe in each other and will help each other get there.

What can you do to get moving more?

Find more information on our goals (or, set your own goals) here:


This article was first published in the February 2015 issue of A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Theresa Healy

About Theresa Healy

Theresa is the regional manager for healthy community development with Northern Health’s population health team and is passionate about the capacity of individuals, families and communities across northern B.C. to be partners in health and wellness. As part of her own health and wellness plan, she has taken up running and, more recently, weight lifting. She is also a “new-bee” bee-keeper and a devoted new grandmother. Theresa is an avid historian, writer and researcher who also holds an adjunct appointment at UNBC that allows her to pursue her other passionate love – teaching.

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Community Health Stars: Wayne Mould

Man curling.

Northern Health is pleased to announce our Community Health Star for the month of February: Wayne Mould! Wayne is a founding member of the running club in Dawson Creek (a “running club for everyone”) and is committed to supporting people to make walking and running part of their lifestyle!

Northern Health’s first two Community Health Stars – Myles Mattila of Prince George and Seamus Damstrom of Terrace – exemplified the power of youth to promote health and wellness in their community. Not to be outdone, our Community Health Star for the month of January reminds us all that it is never too late to create healthy changes in your community and to incorporate new physical activities into your life. A retired teacher with a career that spanned 40 years, Wayne Mould has worked to keep the Dawson Creek running club going and growing for the last ten years. Not even a cancer diagnosis and surgery could keep Wayne down for long – just one year after a major cancer surgery, he was racing again and even winning his age category!

I had the pleasure of talking with Wayne about the running club, his impressive running resumé, and why supporting an active community is so important to him.

How did you get into running?

I started running in my late 50s after a bit of an off-the-cuff remark to my daughter, who runs regularly. She had just returned home after a six kilometre run, and I mentioned – as an inexperienced non-runner at the time – that she seemed quite tired after “just” six kilometres. Her response was that I should try running six kilometres. So, just to prove that I could, I started running with a few others and haven’t stopped!

Since that time, I’ve run about 15 half marathons, one full marathon, and 15 ten kilometre races. The highlights for me were races in Kelowna just after my 60th and 70th birthdays when I won my age groups. I’ve also raced the famous Emperor’s Challenge in Tumbler Ridge seven times. That race is pretty special because you get a “permanent number” after five races so I’m proud to be part of that group.

How are you involved in the Dawson Creek running club?

I have been involved in the Dawson Creek running club for the last ten years. Together with some others, we’ve kept the club going and our members running through snow, rain, or shine! We organize four runs each week and the club members say that “Wayne will always be there.” I guess that I am the familiar face during all of the runs! I try to invite as many new members as possible and encourage everyone to join us on our runs.

Man running outside.

Whether snow, rain, or shine, Wayne is always out with new and existing running club members for their morning runs. Wayne is a familiar and friendly face eager to welcome new members and get more people active!

How is the Dawson Creek running club organized?

The group has a loose structure, which I believe encourages participation. We meet at the Tim Hortons in Dawson Creek four times each week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:00 a.m. for a five kilometre run and Saturdays at 8:00 a.m. for a longer run.

We call it the “running club for everyone” and even had some T-shirts made up with that slogan. We welcome all runners from first-timers to ultra-marathon runners. There is a lot of turnover – which is neat as we get to meet new people – and there are approximately 25 people who are loosely associated with the running club at any one point. Of these members, 3-15 runners will participate in any one run that we do.

I take our slogan – that we are a running club for everyone – very seriously! The social part of the club is very strong. Members have become very good friends because of the way that we run. We run for 10 minutes and walk for one minute, all at a pace that allows us to talk to each other.

The running club also organizes an annual run in Dawson Creek – the Windmill Run/Walk. The event is a 10 kilometre run or walk event (we don’t specify which!) and participants can turn around whenever they feel like it if 10 kilometres is too daunting. Our goal with this event is to generate interest in running and walking in Dawson Creek and to make it a part of people’s lifestyles. The event is becoming quite popular! First-time participants get medals, local doctors have been promoting it, and we had over 50 runners last year.

How did your cancer diagnosis impact your running?

Shortly after my 70th birthday, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I received excellent care – I really can’t say enough about how I was treated by the health system and health care professionals both in Dawson Creek and when I had to travel away from home for specialized care – and have recovered fully from an operation that removed the cancer and a kidney.

After about six weeks, I was walking with the running club again and after one year, I was running regularly and felt close to 90% of where I was before the diagnosis. After turning 71, I was racing again and even won my age group during a race that year.

What are your plans for 2015?

I will keep running! You’ll find me at the Tim Hortons in Dawson Creek four mornings each week!

I may not do any more full marathons but I’d like to finish at least four races this year – in Grande Prairie, Chetwynd, Kelowna, and the Emperor’s Challenge in Tumbler Ridge.


 

The Northern Health Community Health Stars program shines a light on community members across northern B.C. who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to promote health and wellness in their community. To nominate a Community Health Star in your community, visit the Northern Health website.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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NH Stories: Fundraising for Terry Fox in northern BC

Jim Terrion is a housekeeper at the University Hospital of Northern BC in Prince George. In this video, he (with the assistance of a translator) shares his story of fundraising for the Terry Fox Foundation. As of the 2014 Terry Fox Run, Jim has surpassed his goal for this year ($610,000) and is well on his way towards his goal of $1 million.

Do you know of an NH staff member who has gone above and beyond? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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.

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Bringing physical activity into the work day

Michael's running injury

Michael with his running injury, but still sporting a big smile.

This spring and summer, a small group of us started to run the Terrace Mountain trail during the lunch break. This is not for the faint-hearted and according to my wife, is not something a sensible person (of my age) would do!

Starting from the car park at the rear of the Skeena Health Unit, the first kilometer consists of steep, muddy inclines. After that, we follow part of the route used in the annual ‘King of the Mountain’ race. The feeling of achievement, accomplishment and overall sense of well-being is difficult to describe. Neither a treadmill nor pavement can compete with the natural beauty of a BC mountain trail.

During the 50 minutes from leaving my desk, my gadgets show we cover almost 6 km and burn through 770 calories. While this helps support my fitness goals, this is only part of the story.

Previously, my lunch would be eaten at my desk. Often, by the time the work day ended, I would feel physically and mentally exhausted. When I take to the trails, things could not be more different. I feel invigorated and alive. This ‘boost’ keeps my energy levels high through the rest of the day and into the evening.

Now for the bad news! At various times over recent months, each member of the group sustained injuries, aches and strains, directly or indirectly related to our lunchtime activities. I had a close call, when I tripped on a tree root and hit the ground face-first. I was lucky to escape with only a black eye and a few cuts and bruises. While I am still enjoying the challenge, I have started to look for alternatives.

I was excited to learn that I could get the same psychological boost with far lower risk for injury. Researchers from the University of Essex, England, suggest that five minutes of outdoor physical activity improves mood and self-esteem. Walking, running, or anything that gets you moving, will produce the desired results.

Even better, a five minute session produced a greater boost to self-esteem and mood than a workout lasting 10–60 minutes. As we head into the Fall and running outdoors becomes challenging, I plan to make this a part of my daily routine. Even on the busiest day, I can find five minutes to exercise outside.

What exercise will you do outdoors for five minutes to boost mood, self-esteem and resilience?

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.

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Learning to listen to your body

Balance Rock

Just outside of Skidegate, Balance Rock is one of the pictures that might say it all …Finding balance. (photo credit Tony Carter)

For years, I had used exercise, in particular running, as a way to relieve stress, get calm and refocused. I welcomed seasonal changes: running past shrubs laden with hoar frost on icy roads, running on muddy trails, or trying to dodge mosquitoes in the early morning; these runs were my time. Before long, I was training for my first marathon. Then I started in on the V series, traveling to cities that started with a V, like Vancouver and Victoria in BC, or Vienna in Austria. Yes, this does sound a bit obsessive compulsive. If running one marathon per year seemed like a reasonable goal to me, running two or three per year seemed even better. Acquaintances would often ask me about my knees, but my knees were fine. What eventually did give me grief was the area around my Achilles tendon. Taking a week off did not result in lasting improvements, and I knew that I had to dial back my efforts. A few physiotherapy appointments provided me with exercise suggestions, and I set right to them, but there was no way that I was about to hit the pavement any time soon.

As a healthcare worker whose job involves a fair amount of deep listening, I seemed to have been doing a poor job of listening to my body. Luckily, I had also taken yoga over the years, and its subtle message helped me to deal with the restlessness and irritability that came with having to slow down. Initially, I couldn’t even do any of the standing yoga poses. Once the Achilles was healed, bursitis of the Trochanter dogged my efforts for another year and a half.

I am not unfamiliar with grief and loss; once I had reached acceptance of my physical state, I was able to recall what else gave me joy in life. I didn’t have to look far as our living room was built around a piano. A lot of people’s effort went into getting it there, but it hadn’t been played in years. An itinerant piano tuner gave it some love and attention, and I was able to coax a few sounds from it. Research on the aging brain suggests that important lifestyle changes can help us to keep ourselves in the best possible cognitive shape. Learning to dance, a new language, or playing an instrument all are fun ways of challenging your brain. Your local Alzheimer Society has a host of tips.

Once again, acceptance was critical. Beginner’s mistakes help me learn; and my partner, who has a solid musical background but no longer plays the trombone, remains remarkably tolerant. Now that I am back on the road, I can go for a short run, come home and play myself a lullaby.

“By trying we can easily learn to endure adversity. Another man’s, I mean.”

-Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer

Astrid Egger

About Astrid Egger

Astrid Egger has been working with Northern Health since 2002 and is currently Team Leader for Haida Gwaii mental health and addiction services. She is active in the Haida Gwaii Arts Council and enjoys the changing wind and wave patterns on the inlet.

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Running towards balance

Running decreases stress and increases energy.

Exercise assists with low mood, it helps with stress and anxiety, it improves self esteem, and it can actually increase your level of energy.

I’m not a runner. At least, that’s what I thought. Until a few months ago, the only circumstances I imagined doing any intense cardio were usually wrapped up in fantasies I had while watching The Walking Dead. I’m sure this resonates with many people, but by the end of my working day, I felt I simply didn’t have any extra energy to devote to exercise. I was content with shutting the blinds and jumping into some Black Ops matchmaking or watching TV in my evenings until I decided to call it a night.

I had plenty of excuses, too. Living in a new community, I didn’t know anyone to exercise with. I felt self conscious at the thought of being around strangers and exercising. I had too much stress, the last thing that I thought I needed was to add to that by trying to add an exercise regimen. Subtly, as the weeks went by, these types of excuses were easier to justify. However, one thing I was noticing was that I was becoming more and more unhappy and unhealthy. Even though I avoided my Wii because it called me overweight (we’re still not good friends), I was conscious of the fact that I was becoming larger and had lower energy. As a healthcare worker with knowledge in the field of mental health, I was doing the exact opposite of what I recommended to the people I worked with and it was showing in my physical and mental health.

You don’t have to look far to find information on links between exercise and mental wellness. The Canadian Mental Health Association and the Here to Help website, resources I would often share with individuals to promote mental wellness, have plenty of information about physical activity and the positive effects it has on our mental wellness. Exercise assists with low mood, it helps with stress and anxiety, it improves self esteem, and it can actually increase your level of energy. Even with this knowledge in my toolkit, the decision to remain inactive was easier (and less scary to me) than the alternative.

The catalyst for my change was hearing the experience of others who had made healthy changes and recognizing that the potential exists in all of us to make improvements in our lives. It came down to recognizing that I had the information, the tools I needed, and an activity where I could dictate my own pace. I started visualizing the changes I was hoping to make and that gave me my incentive. I started running in small increments – it didn’t matter that I was only running a couple hundred meters before I needed a break. I didn’t have to wait very long to notice some improvements. Taking on a new challenge and finding some success improved my outlook. I wasn’t winded by climbing a set of stairs anymore. I discovered for myself, that on days where I was particularly stressed, being active relieved some tension and also created a safe space where I could be productive with my stress and think things through before I took action.

After some considerable weight loss and some strides forward with finding balance in my lifestyle, I hope that by sharing a little bit of what I’ve found, others might find something that sparks a thought or resonates with them. I’m no fitness expert, but I can definitely attest to the fact that you stand to gain much more than you might initially think by increasing your level of activity.

So think it over. Take a walk, go for a hike, or give jogging a chance. Nido Qubein, author and motivational speaker, is quoted as saying, “Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Keep fit and stay healthy with Suzanne & John!

One warm Saturday morning this past August, I was trail running with my husband John. Breathless, I stopped short in my tracks about 30 minutes into the run. No, it wasn’t a big black bear that caused me to pause – I had a revelation! John stopped next to me and looked at me with curiosity. I turned to him and said, “John, it’s Saturday morning at 8 o’clock, and we are up, out, and running on a trail in the middle of the woods in northern British Columbia. Did you ever think that (1) we would even think about doing this, (2) that we are actually doing it, and (3) that we are having fun?

John, being the agreeable guy that he is, of course, agreed! It is fun! Now we do it all the time! We love it, but more than anything, we love that we can do it!

Suzanne snowshoeing

Suzanne, along with her husband, has been taking a gradual approach to fitness and health.

But how did this happen to two mid-fifties types that never really did too much in the way of exercise other than paddle round in a kayak in the Bay of Fundy? And even more curious – WHY?

Age has a funny way of creeping up and with it, the realization that old bodies need to hold out for a while. With that in mind, John and I agreed to begin our journey process back to fitness. Kidding aside, we have always been moderately active so we knew it would be a bit of a climb back, but not the Everest journey we feared. We started with using a personal trainer – knowing that if we made the commitment to each other and to her, we would live up to it and learn to do it right. The key lesson for us was making that commitment. We started slowly and progressed to more rigorous fitness work. Even the first few jaunts up the UNBC hill in Prince George had the power to paralyze us! Soon, we were running and then it was in the middle of winter and we were really running fast just to stay warm!

We continued to challenge ourselves. We grew from depending on that personal trainer to doing this work on our own and broadening our interest to include other activities. We took on some yoga, an occasional intense boot camp, running up the cut banks, and then gradually finding our own stride together doing what works for us – all by using the skills we acquired through our learning and applying it.  Taking those first steps was hard; today, we feel strong, well and look forward to another fifty years!

Check out the video John and I shot to tell you more about it (posted above)!

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Week 3 Challenge for your chance to win a selection of cookbooks!]

Suzanne Johnston

About Suzanne Johnston

With more than 25 years of leadership experience in health care and government, Suzanne is Northern Health’s vice president of clinical programs and chief nursing officer. Suzanne obtained both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of New Brunswick and completed her doctoral studies at the University of Arizona. Suzanne has a special interest in leadership development and is experienced as a facilitator in this area, and she has volunteered with United Way agencies to help build leadership capacity for non-profit boards. In her spare time, Suzanne loves to spend time outdoors with her husband and her golden retriever, Pirate. (Suzanne no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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