Healthy Living in the North

Sedentary Behaviours – They’re not all created equal!

The sun sets over water in the distance. The sky is blue and gold punctuated by clouds. In the foreground, a silhouette watches the beautiful scene.

Some sedentary behaviours are good for your well-being, like taking in a soothing sunset.

The new smoking.” Sedentary time (time spent in a sitting or lying position while expending very little energy) has come under fire for its negative health effects lately. While there are certainly significant health risks associated with time spent being sedentary, calling it “the new smoking” is a bit of a scare tactic – smoking is still riskier.

At this point, you might be starting to doubt my intentions. After all, my job is to promote increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviour in the name of better health. Fear not! I’ll get there yet.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released guidelines on physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep for children under five years of age:

This is really exciting because the WHO took the evidence used in the development of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for the Early Years (0-4), reviewed more evidence, and reinforced these main messages:

  • Kids need to get a good amount and variety of physical activity each day.
    • For those under one year, being active several times a day including floor-based play and tummy time.
    • For kids between one to two years of age, at least three hours at any intensity throughout the day.
    • For kids between three to four years of age, at least three hours, including at least one hour of higher intensity activity throughout the day.
  • Kids need to get enough – and good quality – sleep!
    • For those under one year, the recommendation is 12-17 hours including naps.
    • For ages one to two, 11-14 hours.
    • For ages three to four, 10-13 hours.
  • Kids need to spend less (or limited) time being restrained and sitting in front of screens.
    • Translation? Not being stuck in a stroller or car seat for more than one hour at a time. Screen time isn’t recommended for children under two years, and it’s recommended to limit sedentary screen time to no more than one hour for kids aged between two and four.

Here’s what I really appreciate about this last part, and what I think actually applies to all ages: the recommendation is to replace restrained and sedentary screen time with more physical activity, while still ensuring a good quality sleep. However, it doesn’t tell us to avoid all sedentary time completely. In fact, this concept recognizes that there are a number of sedentary activities (particularly in the early, developmental years, but also for all ages) that are very valuable from a holistic wellness perspective.

For children, these higher quality sedentary activities include quiet play, reading, creative storytelling and interacting with caregivers, etc. For adults, things like reading a book, creating something, making music, or working on a puzzle can contribute to our overall wellness by expanding our minds and focusing on something positive.

So, what I’m saying is this: yes, for the sake of our health, we need to sit less and move more. However, not all sedentary behaviours are terrible or need to be eliminated completely. Generally, the sedentary behaviours that we, as a society, need to get a handle on are the ones involving staring at screens and numbing our brains. This is not to say that we should never watch TV or movies, or scroll through social media; we just need to be mindful of it, and try to swap out some of these activities in favour of moving our bodies more. We need to recognize the difference between those sedentary activities that leave you feeling sluggish and dull versus those that leave you inspired and peaceful. Do less of what dulls you, and more of what inspires you, for a balanced, healthy life!

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.

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Looking at local data at the NCLGA Convention

Vash Ebbadi and Gillian Frost speaking in front of an audience.

Vash Ebbadi (NH) and Gillian Frost (IH) speaking to the NCLGA audience about the importance of local data in health care.

Vash Ebbadi (Northern Health) and Gillian Frost (Interior Health) presented to community leaders today at the 2019 North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) Convention in Williams Lake on local health data and how information can inform local action.

“I was very happy to share some of my knowledge about data with the attendees today,” said Vash, regional manager of PPH Support Unit and an epidemiologist. “Epidemiology is all about analyzing health data in order to improve strategies around health care and prevent illness, so this was a great opportunity to talk about local-level health data and its importance in supporting community health, well-being, and resilience.”

Steve Raper

About Steve Raper

Steve is the Chief of External Relations and Communications for Northern Health, where he leads marketing, communications, web and media relations activities. He has a business diploma from the College of New Caledonia, a BA from the University of Northern BC and a master’s degree in business administration from Royal Roads University. In his spare time, Steve volunteers on a number of boards, including Canadian Blood Services, Pacific Sport Northern BC and the Prince George Youth Soccer Association. To stay active, he enjoys camping, and playing soccer and hockey.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Brain Awareness Week

MRI machine

MRIs and other tools have created a wealth of knowledge about the brain and how it works but even these advances are just the tip of the iceberg! Look after your brain by looking after your overall well-being!

Brain Awareness Week is happening this week and that’s got me thinking about our wondrous brains!

Your brain is wonderful. Everything it does affects you – and everything that you do affects your brain in some way – so it’s very important to keep your brain healthy. But what does that look like exactly?

One important aspect of brain health is mental wellness, and the BC Healthy Living Alliance has some great information on that connection.

In spite of all the advances of modern science, the brain is still very mysterious. Most mental illnesses, for example, have no blood tests or scans which can determine their existence or origin. Research in this area continues but given the complexity of the brain, understanding this area fully is a tall order! It seems to me like there are billions of possible connections to explore! We do have some tools, though. Functional MRIs can see areas of the brain that light up when certain tasks are being undertaken but they can’t tell us what someone is thinking. In the same vein, EEG states are electrical readings that might point to sleep, waking, or other states determined by the waves seen on a screen.

As wonderful as this all is – and it truly is wonderful – nothing that we have so far can take the complex whole of brain cells and nerve endings and synapses and read all of the electrochemical messages and make sense of them.

Just how complex are our brains? Here’s one way to think of it:

When I read back this text, I have a voice in my head that is reading the text simultaneously. I am aware of the mess on my desk, the room I am in, and the fact that I have just smacked my lips. I am aware of the pressure on my buttocks from the chair, that it’s cloudy outside, that there are people putting drywall up in my bedroom, and so on. All of this is being processed in fractions of milliseconds! Where is that information? This awareness is just the tip of the iceberg – think of all the unconscious things I’m not aware of!

Still, in spite of all its mystery, we know that if certain areas of the brain are damaged, for example, you won’t be able to lift your hand or move your foot. But to further complicate matters, it’s also known that one area of the brain can learn to take over a function that is normally processed or caused by another area in the brain.

Phew! My head – or should I say my brain – is spinning with the mind-bending reality of it all!

So with all of this mystery during Brain Awareness Week, while we keep learning more and more about the brain every day, can I suggest these brain-boosting healthy living messages for us to try?

  • Eat well.
  • Get enough rest.
  • Don’t smoke or take chemicals (think drugs) into your brain.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Be as happy and as positive in outlook as possible.
  • Do life wholeheartedly.
  • Look after your mind, your body, and your spiritual needs as best as you can.
  • Get involved in your community.
  • Laugh a lot.
  • Be grateful for the small things in life.
  • Meditate or do yoga.

Your brain and you are one in the same, so looking after your overall physical and psychological well-being is important.

I wish you the best with my whole brain and my whole being.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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