Healthy Living in the North

Why getting a dog was the best thing I ever did for my mental health

Haylee smiles for the camera as her dog sniffs the side of her head. A meadow is in the background.

Having a dog has been great for my mental health.

I recently became a “dog mom” and I’ve noticed that it’s been great for my mental health!

Like life, my mental health has highs and lows. Stress, not sleeping properly, not moving my body enough, and not taking the time to feed myself nutritious meals can all contribute to my mental-health lows. When I make an effort to take care of these things, it improves my mental health and I generally feel much better. Lately, my mental health has had a boost, and it’s thanks to my dog! Let me tell you a little bit about her.

My rescue dog

I’d been thinking about getting a dog for a while when the opportunity to adopt came up. Growing up, my family always had dogs, so I knew I wanted one of my own one day. Scrolling through Facebook one afternoon, a post by my local SPCA caught my eye — they had dogs available for adoption! I went down to see them at once.

Dogs and “pawsitive” mental health

I ended up finding my perfect dog at the SPCA: a sweet girl named Paris. They say having a dog changes your lifestyle — in my case, it’s been for the better!

A white poodle walks through a meadow.

Walking my dog gets me outdoors and moving – both are linked to positive mental health.

Here are my three reasons why dogs are great for your mental health:

  1. Dogs get you outside and active
    Any responsible dog “parent” knows that dogs need daily exercise and stimulation. Since getting Paris, daily walks outside have become part of my routine! Studies show that being in nature positively effects your mental health. Whether we’re walking in our neighborhood or at the park, I’m outdoors when walking my pooch. This helps me clear my head and calm down if it’s been a tough day. Research also shows that physical activity, like walking, is linked to positive mental health. Sometimes Paris and I walk for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour — it all counts toward my physical activity goals and helps me feel better.
  2. Dogs encourage you to be social
    Social connectedness, or feeling close or connected to others, is linked to positive mental health. Since getting Paris, I’ve met more of my neighbours and met other people at the dog park. These little interactions bring a smile to my face and make me feel more connected to my community.
  3. Dogs provide comfort and companionship
    Dogs seem to have a sixth sense that tells them when their humans aren’t well. If I’m sick or sad, Paris is at my side, ready to cuddle until I feel better. And if my friends are busy or cancel plans, I know I have a companion to count on. Being alone can make me feel lonely sometimes, but no matter what, I know there’s a wagging tail waiting for me at the end of the day.

Do you have a dog or pet? How do they help your mental health? Let me know in the comments below!

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Northern Table: Eating well when living alone

Amelia eating alone, takes a bite of food.

Canada’s Food Guide says to “Eat Meals with Others.” What about those who live, and eat, solo?

The newest edition of Canada’s Food Guide focuses on the “hows” of eating just as much as the “whats.” One of the recommendations is to eat meals with others – but what does that mean for those of us who live, and eat, solo?

Eating together is best for our health

Food is one of life’s great pleasures. When we share a meal with others, we share our joy, companionship, heritage, and life experiences. People typically eat more vegetables and fruit when eating with others, and the social connections that we create around food are so special (I personally love the message behind this video). There are good reasons that the Food Guide suggests this practice; however, many people experience loneliness and do not always have that privilege. It can be hard to be motivated to cook interesting, healthy, and enjoyable meals for one person – especially when you know you’re doing all the clean up as well!

The effects of loneliness

Loneliness can exist for people in many different ways. For instance, some people live in one-person households, while others live with family or friends, but have challenging work schedules. Feeling lonely, no matter the circumstances, can impact your ability to engage in health-supportive practices and can affect overall health. Some studies suggest that loneliness is more damaging to our health than other risky behaviors, such as smoking.

Staying connected when living alone

I live in a single-person household and am faced with loneliness at times. From keeping on top of household chores to taking time to prepare and eat healthy meals, loneliness can make day-to-day tasks more challenging. I’ve learned that living and eating alone doesn’t have to be all leftover leftovers, microwave meals, take-out, and eating over the sink. What has worked for me is finding ways to simply and quickly feed my “family of one” meals that are nutritious and enjoyable, and to plan to share food with others when possible.

Strategies I use for eating well when living alone

  • I batch cook, but keep meals simple so I can switch things up. Over the weekend, I batch cook simple proteins and whole grains that can be served in different ways throughout the week by changing up the spices, sauces, and presentation. Using frozen fruits and vegetables helps cut down on prep and cooking time, and allows for variety throughout the week. Batch cooking also helps me reduce cleanup time – a real bonus in my books!
  • I keep in mind “quickie” meals that I can make in a hurry. These fast meals more or less follow the “healthy plate” in Canada’s Food Guide, and can save time and money versus ordering in or relying on highly-processed convenience foods. Staples for me are:
    • Breakfast for dinner.
    • A taco salad of canned black beans and corn with other veggies and Tex-Mex spices.
    • A sandwich, piled high with my favourite ingredients like chicken, spinach, avocado, and sliced apples.
  • I plan to eat with others when I can. My friends and I get together a few times a month to share meals. It could be potluck-style or one person can host everyone, or we may choose to gather around a table of take-out pizza or sushi. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but we all enjoy it! For me, eating with others also means carving out the time in my work day to eat meals with coworkers in the lunchroom, and occasionally planning potluck lunches or other special meals at work.
  • I set up the right environment for myself. When I’m eating alone at home, I find that I’m better able to enjoy my meal and eat mindfully (two other Canada’s Food Guide recommendations) when I’m at my dining room table and I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Watching television can be too distracting, and eating in silence feels isolating to me. When the weather is nice, I might take my meal to eat outside.

Putting it all together

Canada’s Food Guide offers tips on how you can eat together with others more often. It even gives special considerations for families and seniors. We all experience variations in our eating habits. These day-to-day variations cause normal fluctuations in the amounts and types of foods that we choose and eat. The healthy eating habits, such as eating together, that we practise can also change from day to day.

We all experience “normal eating” a little differently. Your “normal” might be eating most meals alone or practising self-care by preparing nutritious foods you enjoy. If that’s the case, consider including others at your table. It could bring valuable benefits to your health!

Want to learn more about the Canada’s Food Guide? Here’s what Northern Health’s dietitians are saying about it.

Amelia Gallant

About Amelia Gallant

Amelia is a Primary Care Dietitian living and working in Fort St. John. Born and raised near St. John's, Newfoundland, she made her cross-country journey to northern BC in 2017 and is delighted to see comforts of home in the kindness of the people she meets and their love of the outdoors - even in the long and snowy winters. Forever a foodie, Amelia's the one at your dinner table trying to snap the perfect picture, or trying to replicate the latest food trends in her kitchen. As a dietitian, she hopes to simplify the mixed nutrition messaging and help people re-learn to enjoy their eating experience while supporting their healthy living goals.

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Planting seeds, fighting stigma, and growing community: Healthy Minds Community Garden

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Fox in a community garden

How can a community garden reduce stigma around mental health concerns? The Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James accomplished just that – promoting social connections and healthy lifestyles along the way!

The Healthy Minds Peer Support group in Fort St. James offers a safe and confidential venue for those impacted by mental and emotional health issues. The group aims to break isolation, promote healthy lifestyles, support integration into the community, and reduce stigma around mental health concerns. Healthy Minds Peer Support also organizes public awareness campaigns with speakers from the RCMP and local mental health practitioners. They meet every Monday at 7:00 p.m. at the Stuart Lake Hospital and welcome everyone to join them.

At first glance, one might ask how a community garden fits into this vision. For facilitators and Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee members Greg Kovacs and Sandi Taylor, there are so many worthwhile connections between a community garden and mental wellness. They highlighted these when they first proposed this project to the IMAGINE Community Grant program:

A healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and physical activity can reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and mental health problems. We also know working with the soil, planting, and harvesting is therapeutic and conducive to those on their road to recovery and healthy living principles. Community gardens have proven successful in numerous communities worldwide in providing valuable educational tools and skills acquisition for those most in need.

For Kovacs and Taylor, there was a crucial social piece to this project, too:

Isolated mental health clients gain socialization skills, confidence, and practical life-affirming experience. [The garden] is a great way to keep fit, socialize, and an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for participants.

After a successful IMAGINE Community Grant application in 2015, Kovacs, Taylor, and the rest of the Healthy Minds Peer Support group got to work.

Empty lot

A look at the garden space before the Healthy Minds Community Garden took shape. Construction involved over 50 volunteers and over 1,500 volunteer hours.

How did the project go? Kovacs and Taylor provided an inspiring update:

This project exceeded expectations on many levels. The construction of the garden space involved over 50 volunteers, from children to seniors across all socioeconomic and racial divides. Together, we logged over 1,500 volunteer hours. This garden has provided socialization opportunities [and] improved the mental and physical health of many community members. Through these interactions, awareness of mental health, physical health, and environmental health has been raised.

Two classes from David Hoy Elementary School helped in the construction and planting of garden beds. The grade 9 woodworking class from the high school built two flower garden beds for us. We also had involvement from adult mental health service users. Friendships were made, and a sense of community bonding was achieved. We were able to produce many pounds of fresh, organic vegetables – from lettuce to corn and peppers. Also, with seven local newspaper articles on the garden project, mental health and community gardening has been highlighted, and these topics have become common conversations around all community events. Raising awareness of mental health is the first step in reducing, and eventually eliminating stigma around it.

Community garden

A look at the completed garden space reveals the transformation that took place. For the project coordinators, a similar transformation occurred in the lives of those involved in the garden as the “unifying space” helped them to develop social connections.

One of the most important goals of sharing projects supported by IMAGINE Community Grants is the opportunity to share the lessons learned from different projects. Everyone who has been involved in a big project – whether it’s a personal home renovation, organizing a local sporting event, or getting a project off of the ground in a community – knows that it’s not always rainbows and sunshine! With the benefit of hindsight, Kovacs and Taylor shared what they learned:

All in all, it has been a very positive experience. There were, however, some challenges. It was difficult to get people involved in the actual construction. A lot of skilled labour was required, and in short supply … Being the project lead, it was difficult at times to gauge the skill level of volunteers … Volunteers often require close supervision. It is important to allow people some freedom, while discerning what projects they can succeed at. We could have used some more help with the administrative duties … If we undertook this type of project in the future, we would not make funding applications, or commitments, until we had people committed to certain duties.

The takeaway for Kovacs and Taylor, though?

The successes greatly exceeded the challenges. We have been approached by many strangers complimenting the work our group is doing. The word is out, and most of our beds are already reserved for the 2016 planting season. This garden is poised to become a new standard in community gardening. With a focus on aesthetics, as opposed to just food production, our garden has become a popular lunch, and socialization place for local workers and all community members. There is a lot of pride in this community garden. It is known as a very tranquil and serene sanctuary, overlooking the beautiful Stuart Lake. Seeing the faces of people who see the garden for the first time—priceless! … Be prepared to get projects off the ground with a few dedicated and imaginative people, and once things begin to take shape, others will join.

Two people paint a sign.

Volunteers put the finishing touches on the sign welcoming gardeners, guests, and visitors to the Healthy Minds Community Garden in Fort St. James.

The impact of the Healthy Minds Community Garden and the Healthy Minds Peer Support group really comes to light when you ask Kovacs and Taylor for one thing that they want to share about the project:

It is extremely difficult to list only one, as there are so many! … The greatest benefit, among many, is that of community bonding, or socialization. People that would not normally mix are working, laughing, and talking with each other. With so many phenomena dividing people in society today, the garden is a unifying space. One participant in particular, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been suffering from a life-threatening illness and has been isolating for over a year. We managed to get her out to the garden one day, and that resulted in her riding a bicycle to the garden every weekend to help and mostly just to socialize. She has reserved a garden bed for 2016. Largely as a result of stigma, many people experiencing mental health issues suffer in silence. Our objective is to reach as many of these people as possible, and the Healthy Minds Community Garden is accomplishing this. We also have to mention that the health benefits of growing and eating whole foods has not been lost on those participating in the garden.

Clearly unable to contain their excitement, pride, and desire to share more about the community garden, Kovacs and Taylor’s “one thing” continues to a list of community partners:

The involvement of the school kids, and the excitement in their eyes when they see what they have grown, is priceless. We believe that many of those kids will continue to garden and eat healthy throughout their lives. We also have to mention that the school this year is going to plant three beds as a result of the success of the program.

We have also reserved a bed for the Key Resource Centre in Fort St. James, and two beds are reserved for a local women’s wellness group. So far, we have two beds reserved for seniors as well. We have built two extra height beds for people with mobility issues. The entire garden is wheelchair accessible. We strongly believe that this garden will continue to grow and be of great benefit to all in this small community.

This project is, beyond any reasonable doubt, a resounding success.

Garden bed

Growing so much more than just healthy, local food, the community garden has become first and foremost a health-promoting gathering space where people can connect.

Do you have ideas to promote social connections, reduce stigma, boost healthy eating, and make your community healthier? Start gathering your team and brainstorming your project – the next round of IMAGINE Community Grants will start September 19, 2016.


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. The next call out for IMAGINE Community Grants will be September 19, 2016.

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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Invest in your relationships

This month, we want to know how you are preparing for the future by investing in your health! Tell us (or show us) what you do to invest in your body, your mind, and your relationships for your chance to win great weekly prizes and a $150 grand prize! To inspire you, we’ll be featuring regular healthy aging content on the Northern Health Matters blog all month long!


Group selfie on a showshoe trip.

The time to embrace and invest in your relationships is now! Taylar, along with some friends, coworkers, and family, enjoys a chocolate treat during a snowshoeing outing together! How are you investing in your relationships?

Looking back at my life, I can’t help but think of all the relationships I have had. Whether formed in school, early jobs, or in my career, these have impacted me and helped me grow in all areas of my life; in fact, I still recall some of my childhood friendships.

We start our lives with many friendships formed in school – from elementary through high school and maybe college or university. Friendships may continue to form in our early jobs and we often grow into new ones from careers, connections through our children, and sports and hobbies. Some of those relationships become lifelong while others peter off. Then, many of us settle into life, careers, maybe kids and the “busy-ness” of general life. As this happens, even more of those friendships may slip away as we feel that there is just no time for them.

But what happens when “life” calms down, our kids become their own independent adults, and the “busy-ness” of life starts to slow? Or maybe you’ve come to a big change in your life where you need more support? When we have the time to look around us, we may feel like there is no one there anymore.

The time to embrace your relationships is now!

Staying connected with friends, family, co-workers and your community can help reduce the risk of isolation, depression, and emptiness. According to Northern Health’s 2013 report on Healthy Aging and Seniors’ Wellness,

Having a strong social network that includes friends and family members brings health, happiness and contentment.

Here are some ways that I have been able to stay connected with many relationships I have encountered throughout my life. Give them a try!

  • Connect online: The internet makes connecting with people easy and can be done in the comfort of your home. It is a quick and easy way to communicate, stay involved and catch up with friends and family. Whether it be e-mail, Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, etc. – it keeps you in contact and in most cases you can talk for as long as you want without that dreaded long distance bill! Not too sure how to use these tools? Talk to a tech-savvy friend, a person of a younger generation, or visit your local library! If you do not have the internet, you can always visit a local coffee shop as most have free wireless internet connection.
  • Build new friendships: This sounds scary, and you will probably ask yourself: “how?” Start by connecting with people you may already know like a co-worker who you’ve always just worked with, or a friend of a friend. If you’re invited to something new, try just going, even if it isn’t for you! You can even just stay for a bit and say “Hi.” Try inviting someone new for coffee or a dinner party, a walk, or to a community event.
  • Rebuild existing friendships: We are all guilty of bumping into an old friend and saying “let’s get together and catch up” but then never following through. Why don’t we follow through? Too busy? Not interested? The excuses can go on and on. Like Nike says, “Just do it!” What do you have to lose? Get your old friend’s contact info right away and send them a quick text or choose a date and meeting place at that initial encounter. Maybe they need someone like you back in their life, too.
  • Volunteer: Volunteering keeps you connected with your community. It is a great way to get out and meet new people. The Government of B.C.’s Seniors’ portal reminds us that “volunteering offers numerous opportunities to expand and grow, to learn, to meet new people, to be creative, to feel valued, to make a difference and to help shape the community you live in.” People who volunteer have better self-esteem, satisfaction, and have overall better physical and emotional health.

Make time for yourself and start investing in the relationships around you. You might even surprise yourself with how many people want the same as you do, and with how many people do care and support you. Build a strong support network for your future. Starting now will guide your upcoming years to what you always pictured them to be.

How do you invest in your relationships? Tell us for your chance to win!

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Taylar Endean

About Taylar Endean

Taylar is an Oncology Nurse in Fort St John. Taylar was born and raised in Prince George and studied at UNBC to earn her degree in Nursing in 2011. She's still living in the North where she tries to embrace everything it has to offer. In her spare time, Taylar loves being outdoors, spending countless weekends at Ness Lake, walking, snowshoeing and skiing. Taylar also enjoys spending time with family and friends, coaching skating, volunteering at community events and just started to learn to crochet. The north is her home, though she does like to take those sunny vacations!

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Staying active, eating well, and connecting with family and community: Healthy aging resources

Magazine cover with two seniors dancing

The new issue of Healthier You magazine is out now and it’s all about healthy aging!

Have you thought about your winter reading list yet? Make sure that the newest issue of Healthier You magazine is on it!

The new issue is all about healthy aging. It’s got lots of tips for seniors but what I found especially cool is how the magazine reminded me that we all have a role to play in healthy aging! Sharing stories across generations benefits everyone, young and old! Older adults can make a couple small changes to their physical activity routines to make their golden years safe and healthy. Seniors can draw on community centres and educators for resources on everything from sexual health to social dances. What can you do to support healthy aging?

For me, a few highlights in this issue are:

  • Healthy Aging with Dzi’is: As I read this story of how Jessie’s grandma embodied healthy aging, I immediately thought of some of the seniors in my life and how inspiring their community engagement, physical activity, stories, and traditions can be!
  • Brain Dance for Seniors: I love hearing about the great programs that are offered across northern B.C. The experiences of the “Brain Dance” participants made me want to connect with my local rec program to see what types of neat activities are on offer!
  • From Little Acorns…To me, the idea of seniors helping seniors in Fort St. James is such a cool model for healthy aging! I loved Theresa and Emily’s description of seniors in Fort St. James as “community assets” who play a key role in building strong relationships and enhancing the community’s health and well-being.

What was your favourite article? Check out the full magazine on ISSUU and remember that all past issues are also available online!

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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Stay connected and get involved to conquer winter!

Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Andrew Burton, Holly Christian, Danielle Munnion and Lana Vanderwijk. It was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine.


 

Northern living presents a whole host of challenges that can lead to social isolation. The long, cold and dark winters can make it difficult to get out. Many people leave for work before the sun rises and don’t get home until after it has set. This can put a real damper on your mood, energy level and motivation.

But there are lots of things that you can do to prevent this! The key to conquering winter is staying involved and connected! Research suggests that having an active social life and staying engaged in the community leads to better mental, physical and emotional health. So let’s conquer winter together this year and come out even healthier on the other side! Here are a few ways that you can get involved and stay connected in your community.

Volunteer

Volunteering is a great way to be involved in the community, and there’s no easier time to start since the holiday season typically offers many opportunities for volunteering! There are so many different organizations in need of help that you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something that piques your interest! Volunteering gets you up and out of the house, is a great way to meet new people, and is associated with better mental and emotional health. It’s also linked to greater resiliency – that is, the ability to bounce back and cope with unexpected change.

Hello, neighbour!

Volunteering doesn’t strictly mean giving your time to an organization, though. The word “volunteer” simply means to do something and expect no financial gain. There are other ways to benefit from volunteering that don’t require an organization for you to get involved. For instance, you could help a neighbour shovel their driveway, offer to walk their dog, grab their mail while you grab yours, or help them to put up their Christmas lights. There are many things you can do that would surely be appreciated and are great ways to get to know your neighbours or kindle new friendships. And it’s these types of social connections that promote healthy aging and lead to better health for both you and your neighbours!

Try something new!

Three adults carpet bowling

Whether you’re trying something new like carpet bowling at a community centre or sharing a hobby with a neighbour, staying connected this winter will help you to come out even healthier in the spring!

Another great way to meet new people is to try something new! Take up a new activity: try yoga, join a local curling team, or check out the local pool. Many pools offer activities like Aquafit – and what better way to meet someone new than to chat for a bit while soaking sore muscles in a hot tub after a good workout in the pool! Sports, especially team sports, and other organized physical activities are good for your health in more ways than one. They help you stay active and physically fit and during exercise, your body releases endorphins – chemicals produced by the body that can relieve pain and induce a state of euphoria – which make you feel good.

Share your hobbies

In addition to more organized activities like sports, hobbies such as a knitting group, an art or photography class, or a choir also keep you socially engaged. Informal clubs like these provide a great reason to get out of the house on a regular basis during those cold, dark winters. They also provide a place to meet new people with similar interests and make new friends. Many activities offered in our communities are free or have a low cost associated with them, making them easy to attend. The social interaction associated with attending these activities has huge benefits for your health, too, especially in terms of increasing your resiliency, giving you a sense of purpose, improving brain function and memory, and boosting your mood because you’re doing something you enjoy with people you enjoy!

Why connect?

Winter, and the holiday season in particular, is a time of giving – but why do we do it? Because it makes us feel good! We get to spend time with our friends and family and enjoy the satisfaction of making others feel good, too. We enjoy knowing that we’ve made a difference in someone’s life because we’re social creatures. Humans weren’t meant to spend all of their time in solitude. We need those personal, social and spiritual connections and we need to be involved in order to be as happy and healthy as possible.

Start now for stress-free and golden years!

Engaging in activities prior to retirement makes us more likely to continue them after we retire (which is handy because that’s when we have more time to enjoy them, too!). Having activities and social connections in place is key to ensuring that you are happy, healthy and engaged once you no longer have co-workers by your side day-in, day-out to chat with. This fall and winter, make it your goal to try something new: volunteer, try a new activity or join a club! There are so many ways you can benefit from putting yourself out there and we want those “golden years” to be truly that: stress-free and golden!

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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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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Halloween: Candy, costumes and quality time

This is the third in a series of posts about social connections and healthy aging. Over the next two 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!

Collage including a carved pumpkin, inflatable pumpkin decoration, and people watching fireworks.

In Vanderhoof, the annual Pumpkin Walk brings out people of all ages for a walk through thousands of carved pumpkins followed by a fireworks display. What are your friends’, family’s or community’s Halloween traditions? How do they connect people across generations?

October is one of my favourite months because of my favourite holiday, Halloween! I’m especially fond of it, but not just because of the candy (although the occasional candy treat never hurts!). Growing up, Halloween was a big thing in my family. To this day, I still love dressing up and jump at every opportunity to do so. I think that it’s because of the skills that my mother and my grandmother, Nanny, passed down to me.

My sister and I never had store-bought costumes; my mother always made our costumes — the same way Nanny did for my mother and her sister. She and Nanny would take us to the fabric store and together we would flip through the pattern books until we found the costumes we wanted. Then, we would select our fabrics (and then reselect our fabrics, because we had Vogue taste but definitely not a Vogue budget!) and prepare for numerous fittings, alterations and what seemed like hours of standing still — and being stabbed by pins because we weren’t very good at standing still! But it was always worth it because our costumes were always one-of-a-kind and looked phenomenal, which set the standard pretty high each year!

Now, as an adult — and for every Halloween since my adolescence — I sew and create my own Halloween costumes (and often those of my friends and pets), because I feel like it would dishonour my mother and Nanny’s legacy if I were to wear a store-bought costume. All through adolescence, I honed my sewing skills under the tutelage of Nanny and my mother. Those skills will remain with me for life. The time spent fostering the relationships with Nanny and my mother also benefited them as they were positive experiences where they were able to share their craft and provided us with a common hobby to talk about.

Each Halloween since adolescence, Nanny has called me to ask, “What are you going to be this year, Danielle? What masterpiece will you create?” It has become a part of our Halloween ritual: Nanny asking what I’m going to be and make, and me asking her and my mother for advice on how I can modify the costume to make it even more elaborate and unique. I truly value the time I spend chatting with my mother and Nanny about my costumes and, often, it leads to us chatting about other things and just socializing and enjoying our time together.

These relationships and rituals are a part of what keep us happy and healthy. Humans are social creatures, and staying socially connected is an important part of staying healthy. It is important to remember to stay connected with friends and family from multiple generations, too, not just your own. This helps to keep you engaged, balanced and well-rounded as an individual, at any age.

As Halloween once again draws near, I want to ask: what traditions do you and your friends and family have? Send us your photos that show your friends’ and family’s traditions that span the generations! We want to see how you spend time passing down your Halloween legacy to future generations to promote active and healthy living! Send us your photos as a part of our contest that supports healthy aging and you will be entered into a weekly draw to win a great prize and also have the chance to win the grand prize!

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 3 is: “Show us how you spend quality time across the generations!” Maybe you’ll want to share your Halloween traditions? Submit your photo at https://blog.northernhealth.ca/connect.

Danielle Munnion

About Danielle Munnion

Danielle is a Public Health Nurse who works out of Fort St. John, where she enjoys working with families and children, helping them to make decisions that lead to a healthy lifestyle. When not at work, Danielle enjoys spending time outdoors exploring the north and taking full advantage of what the Peace Region has to offer. When not outdoors, Danielle can often be found either doing some form of arts and crafts or playing games with friends -both tabletop and video. (Danielle no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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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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