Healthy Living in the North

Therapeutic Recreation: a holistic approach to health

February is Therapeutic Recreation month, and although I don’t currently work in the field, I am very proud to have focused my education and first part of my career on this helping profession. Not many people are familiar with Therapeutic Recreation, also known as Recreation Therapy; it has been confused with such things as sports medicine and physiotherapy, but also has been shrugged off as simply any activity to combat boredom. Let me set the record straight on that, because Recreation Therapists are working non-stop to provide programs that are purposeful and goal-oriented down to an individual level.

Therapeutic Recreation is defined as “a health care profession that utilizes a therapeutic process, involving leisure, recreation and play as a primary tool for each individual to achieve their highest level of independence and quality of life” (CTRA, 2017).

seniors playing floor curling.

Being physically active in a group setting and cheering others on helps form social connections and bolster self-esteem.

Recreation Therapists can be found in a variety of settings, including:

  • Assisted living/seniors’ housing
  • Long term care
  • Children’s hospitals
  • Mental health services
  • Rehabilitation centres
  • Day centres
  • Private practice
  • …and many more.

One of the things that (in my mind) makes therapeutic recreation a unique and special field is its truly holistic approach to health. While many health care professions tend to be very targeted to one aspect of a patient’s health, recreation therapy works to improve the health of the person as a whole; they may focus on physical needs, but they may pay just as much attention to the emotional, cognitive, social, and/or spiritual needs that make up a person’s overall quality of life.

There are many benefits related to taking part in physical programming. Many chronic disease symptoms can be avoided, delayed, or better managed through physical activity. Working on maintaining or improving core strength and balance can help reduce the risk of falls. It’s also important to note that the benefits of participating in a physical program extend beyond the obvious goal of maintaining or increasing physical function. Participants may realize they’re gaining social connections as a result of taking part in physical programming as part of a group; they will likely experience a mood boost following participation; realizing they are capable of more than they were previously (or had expected to be) can also do much to bolster confidence and self-esteem.

I was able to catch up with a local Recreation Therapist, Jaymee Webster, to get her perspective on the benefits of therapeutic recreation programming in her work settings of inpatient rehabilitation unit and outpatient geriatric rehabilitation day program.

“Often when individuals are engaged in all aspects of the rehabilitation process they have better outcomes. Through recreation and physical activity our patients have the opportunity to see their progress from other therapies translate to meaningful engagement. For example, an individual working on regaining strength in the upper extremities feels a sense of accomplishment when they are able to score points in a game of floor curling.”

If you know or work with a Recreation Therapist or team providing therapeutic recreation programs, take a moment this month to watch them at work. Their creativity and passion for working to improve the lives of others at an individual level are truly inspiring.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.


Another 11 ways northern B.C. residents invest in their health!

The “Invest in Healthy Aging” contest is now in its final week and the stories of healthy living in northern B.C. just keep rolling in! Thank you for sharing your inspiring ideas!

I’m so excited to be able to share yet another set of stories from every corner of northern B.C.! If you want even more ideas for healthy aging, don’t miss the Week 1 and Week 2 summaries!

Remember that you can enter the contest once a week so keep the ideas coming! How do you invest in your body, mind, and relationships?

Father and daughter running

Clay invested in his health by running a half marathon on his birthday! “My daughter was so proud of me and wants to become a runner. About 200 metres before the finish line she jumped out and finished the race with me. The six weeks of training was worth it.”

In Chetwynd, Clay’s commitment to healthy living is inspiring his daughter – a new aspiring runner!

I’ve been into running half marathons lately. I was going to be in Vancouver the first week in February and saw that there was the Hypothermic Half on February 6, which was my birthday. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday! My daughter was so proud of me and wants to become a runner. About 200 metres before the finish line, she jumped out and finished the race with me. The six weeks of training was worth it. I beat my target time by 4 minutes. Looking forward to the next one in May!

Tammy in Quesnel has found ways to stay active around her kids’ busy sport schedules!

Being a mom of 2 teenagers, it is very hard to have a schedule of my own, between working and driving the kids to their sporting events. Like any mom with active kids, I feel like a taxi driver going to soccer, volleyball, softball, hockey practices or games. In order to keep up with the kids and get in some exercise time of my own, I will go for a short walk at the beginning of their practices or games. That way, I can still watch them (because they always look to make sure Mom is watching!)!

Remember all of the pets that promoted healthy aging in week one? Ginger is a high-energy dog who has helped Emily in Quesnel invest in her health!

My husband and I adopted our high energy dog Ginger in 2012. Ginger requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis. She gets excited to go for walks, hikes and snowshoeing and to just be included with the family. When Ginger is happy, we are happy. It is amazing what fresh air and a healthy dose of exercise can do for your mind and relationship!

Group photo at a circuit class

Helena takes part in a regular circuit class with friends! How do you stay active?

A circuit class in Smithers has paid dividends for Helena’s health!

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, we go to Aileen’s Circuit Class at Lake Kathlyn School! It’s great to work out with an awesome bunch women. I was first invited to attend in November and loved it! We have a group that attends and it’s fun to work out together!

Gretchen in Quesnel has seen a local running group benefit her mind, body, and relationships!

Two years ago, I signed up for a walk/run group at a local running store (Reason2Run). I am now running 25 km trail races. Although it is not a team sport, I have met a great group of people of all ages that create the team spirit with every run. Some of the side effects of this adventure have been a healthy heart, happy spirit, fresh air to cleanse my mind […] At 53 years old, I feel better than I ever have.

For Chris in Fort St. John, healthy aging boils down to three components of walking outside!

Getting vitamin D, holding hands and experiencing the everyday.

Deanne in Quesnel is testing the waters with a few different activities! What would you suggest she try next?

I am working on trying to eat healthier by having the fridge stocked with healthy snacks and veggies and eating out less often. I struggle with getting out for exercise but am making a concerted effort to get out and experience as many different activities as I can in the hopes that something will become a passion. I have recently tried cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, which were a lot of fun.

Also in Quesnel, Beverly has come up with amazingly creative ways to stay active without much impact!

I am not a candidate for extreme anything! I have an artificial knee, complex scoliosis, and arthritis, so mild to moderate activity with no impact is more my bag. This morning for instance, I did 5 modified push-ups on the edge of my tub before I showered; jumped onto my little stepper that I have on my sundeck for 5 minutes while my puppy went to do his business in the yard; and then while I was pumping gas, I did as many step-ups onto the fuel pump island as I could while my tank filled!

Three friends with mountain in background

In her 60s, Carol and a friend discovered geocaching – a fun and healthy adventure! What new activities can you try to invest in your health?

In Atlin, a new hobby has taken Carol off of the couch and around the world!

In 2012, a friend and I were in our early 60s and decided to stop being bookworm couch potatoes. My friend discovered geocaching and we took to it immediately. Getting lost in the bush was almost as much fun as succeeding at finding geocaches! We found ourselves walking, hiking, scrambling up cliffs and under bridges, and learned to use a GPS. We just had to spread this fun to others and gave introductory workshops to participants from 11 to 81 years of age. It’s taken us to 5 countries so far!

In Prince George, life is a slice for Hilda!

I go by the saying “life is a slice.” I have a slice of everything I enjoy every day. I keep an open agenda and have a bit of several enjoyable activities each day. Beginning with morning tea/coffee and catching up on Facebook with friends, a walk, a book, time with grandchildren, healthy cooking. Every day is a pie divided into appropriate slices and savoured all day long. At the end of the day, I enjoy a good night’s sleep and then it starts all over again :)

A move from Prince George to Haida Gwaii has resulted in new opportunities for investment for Ann!

I have recently made a huge investment in my body, mind and relationships. I have retired and moved from Prince George to Haida Gwaii. Here, I am learning to listen to myself and becoming calmer. I am recharging myself by doing things I love: being outside, creating with my hands, and best of all enjoying a huge eclectic community of caring, thoughtful and compassionate people.

I want to keep sharing stories but there’s just not enough room! Thank you everyone for sharing your healthy living ideas so far! Your investments in healthy aging are creative, inspiring, and powerful! The contest runs until the end of February so enter today! You can still win one more weekly prize or the grand prize of a $150 gift certificate to the local sporting good store of your choice!

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.)