Healthy Living in the North

Bike season is over…or is it? How one cycling team keeps wheeling through winter

For avid cyclists, this time of year is bittersweet. With the changing seasons and winter at our doorstep, it’s time to put the bikes away. However, in Dawson Creek, this isn’t the case! The local cycling club, the Greasy Chains, hosts indoor spin classes so even the most dedicated cyclist can keep spinning all winter long.

I spoke to team captain Jamie Maxwell about the club and the classes.

group cycling indoors.

The Dawson Creek Greasy Chains Cycling Club rides Tuesday and Thursday nights 7 to 8pm in the Coyote Rock Cafe at the Dawson Creek Secondary School – Central Campus from November 1 to April.

Tell me about the Greasy Chains Cycling Club!

Here in the Northeast, there are three active cycling groups: the Fort St. John Blizzards, the Grande Prairie Wheelers, and the Dawson Creek Greasy Chains. All three of us are vibrant, active groups. The Greasy Chains are predominantly a road cycling group. From about April to August, we ride outside and in the winter, we spin inside.

What do you enjoy most about spin and cycling?

Recently I found out I wore out one of my knees and was told I needed to run less. I’d read that biking and swimming was therapeutic. The nice thing too about spin and cycling is that it can be a group activity – it’s social. For cycling, it’s a way to experience being outside – similar to running but you get to cover more territory. It’s really fun too.

How does biking help you incorporate wellness into your life?

It seems like as you age, you’re genetically lucky to continue as a runner. With cycling, there doesn’t seem to be lasting negative impacts. For me, it’s an ideal aerobic endurance training tool without the joint impact.

How is the team staying active this winter?

Right now we are offering indoor cycling all winter for $70. We ride every Tuesday and Thursday night from 7 to 8 PM in the Coyote Rock Cafe at the Dawson Creek Secondary School – Central Campus from November 1 to April.

Most of us are riding road bikes, and an indoor bicycle trainer is required (we have a couple trainers available for those who haven’t taken the plunge and bought their own yet!). We’ve had users riding mountain bikes with a smooth urban tire. If you’re going to use a mountain bike there are a few things to consider so the bike stays in the trainer safely.

We use a ceiling mounted projector and sound system and we ride to cycling videos. This is a time where I, and others, can offer advice and instruction, and riders are free to work as hard as they wish. All riders must have a Cycling BC membership (Provincial RIDE $60: affiliate yourself with DC Greasy Chains) for insurance purposes). Riders looking to try it out first can drop-in for November and December and then join Cycling BC for 2019. In the spring the group has mountain bike trail enthusiasts as well!

Where can someone find more information?

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

A Northerner since childhood, Haylee has grown up in Prince George and recently completed her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Northern British Columbia. During university Haylee found her passion for health promotion while volunteering heavily with the Canadian Cancer Society and was also involved with the UNBC JDC West team, bringing home gold as part of the Marketing team in 2016. Joining the communications team as an advisor for population and public health has been a dream come true for her. When she is not dreaming up marketing and communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or enjoying a glass of wine with friends. (NH Blog Admin)

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Join the Winter Walk Day Movement – It’s not just for kids!

I start to get antsy this time of year. Warm sunny days tease me, making me “think spring,” but they tend to be quickly followed up by another blast from the deep freeze many of us northerners love to hate. I know it’s tempting to hibernate when the weather is on the chilly side, but most of us – if we’re honest – will admit that we feel so much better physically AND mentally when we make the effort to get out for some activity.

boy playing in snow

Why not plan your own Winter Walk Day event (February 7, 2018 or any date in February that works for schools) to get outside and reach those recommend 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity?

Not that we need an excuse, but we have an excellent opportunity to push ourselves out the door: Winter Walk Day is celebrated by schools across Canada on the first Wednesday of February each year (February 7, 2018). Schools are encouraged to register their Winter Walk Day event in order to receive a Certificate of Participation. If February 7 doesn’t work for you or your school, that’s okay! You have the option to plan and register an event anytime in February.

Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day (more is even better), and the majority of kids are falling short of these recommendations. Walking to school is a great way to fit more activity into everyday life, and leads to so many benefits, including:

  • Improved physical health
  • Improved learning and grades
  • Improved mental health (reducing anxiety, boosting mood, etc.)
  • Decreased traffic congestion, especially around school drop-off zones
  • Improved safety due to less traffic
  • Environmental benefits due to fewer emissions
teen walking to school in snow

Walking to school (or work!) is a great way to fit more activity into everyday life

Even though Winter Walk Day is a school-based initiative, why should students have all the fun?? I’d like to point out that all of the benefits listed above apply to adults in the workplace as well. Arriving at work warm from activity and alert from the fresh air is likely to set you up for a positive and productive day. Who couldn’t use one of those days?

I’m going to strap on my ice grippers and join the winter walk movement on Wednesday, February 7. Who’s with me?

For more information on active transportation, visit:

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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Snowshoeing, skating, and safety: the perfect winter day

Last December, my family could not wait for our vacation to start so we could enjoy full days of outdoor activities together! One of my fondest memories was a day we went with a big group of friends to snowshoe on a local lake (this was a year we were fortunate to have temperatures that made the ice more than thick enough for skating parties and games). Wondering how thick the ice should be? Check out the Canadian Red Cross ice safety recommendations!

We filled our backpacks with a picnic and all the gear to go skating on the very frozen lake. The kids were thrilled to swap out snowshoes and backpacks for skates and hockey sticks. They quickly organized themselves into teams and started working up a sweat. The mothers snowshoed laps around them, ever watchful that nobody decided to venture off into the woods.

boy playing hockey on frozen lake

My son taking a shot on the frozen ice!

What struck me was that the kids did not need to be reminded to wear a helmet on the ice, or how to play the game safely. It’s just second nature now to wear the gear and play safe. This made preventing injuries that day effortless. Should there have been a fall on the ice, a couple of us had taken the Concussion Awareness Training Tool that is free online for parents. Just one less thing to be concerned about so we could fully enjoy the day.

Before we snowshoed out, we built a fire on shore to warm our hands and share our potluck-style meal, complete with warm thermoses of tea and hot chocolate. It was a wonderful day in the snow. We all left with cold toes and warm hearts… I can’t wait to do it all over again this winter!

For more information on how to keep your loved ones safe while enjoying all that northern BC winters have to offer, visit:

Natasha Thorne

About Natasha Thorne

After many years in southern B.C., Natasha was drawn back to her hometown of Prince George in 2006 by the lure of extended family, sub-boreal forests, and raising her babes exploring the backwoods of her own childhood. Whether nose in a book or in real life, Natasha is an aspiring world traveller planning overseas vacations so she and her husband can give their two children a wider perspective of living in today's global community. As the full time Regional Nursing Lead for Injury Prevention for Northern Health, Natasha is committed to the north and is passionate about supporting the health and well-being of northerners.

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Foodie Friday: With gratitude to the hunters and the snow…

Moose in snow

Have you tried wild game before? Registered dietitian Victoria was hesitant at first but now has trouble going back to beef!

Winter is here and I am pretty excited. I love the first snowfall! Letting those first snowflakes settle on my face is one of my favorite winter moments. It’s a great time for families and friends to get out and have some fun together walking or playing in the snow.

After one of those outdoor winter adventures, it’s sure nice to come home to a hot meal. This is where a crock pot comes in handy! The recipe I’m sharing today is moose meat spaghetti sauce made in a crock pot so all you have to do is cook the pasta when you get home. Sound good? Of course, if you don’t have moose meat, you can always substitute ground beef.

I know many Indigenous people and northerners who hunt or have someone who hunts for them. I had the good fortune last year to be given some moose meat from a friend. I learned a lot from him about the best way to cook the meat and make sure it is safe to eat.

The First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority are a great resource on traditional foods such as moose. They provide nutritional information as well as traditional harvesting and food use. Moose meat is an excellent source of protein and B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin), and a good source of iron. It’s also low in saturated fat compared to modern domestic animals like beef.

I’ll admit that at first, my daughters and I were hesitant to try moose meat because we had not had it before. But after a few meals, we found it hard to go back to beef! Moose meat is a healthy and delicious northern food. I hope you enjoy winter and this great tasting crock pot moose meat spaghetti!

Crock pot moose spaghetti

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 500 g ground moose meat
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1- 28 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1- 6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • Other vegetables such as mushrooms or zucchini (optional)
  • 1 package spaghetti or other pasta noodles

Instructions

  1. Fry the ground moose meat in a frying pan with the oil until fully cooked. Put into crock pot.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients except the noodles. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
  3. When you are ready to eat, in separate pot, boil water, add the noodles, and cook as per the package directions. Drain. Serve with the sauce on top.

Serving suggestion:

  • If you like, you can garnish with parmesan cheese and serve with a tossed salad. A dessert such as frozen berries is a nice addition.
Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Foodie Friday: Give your comfort food a boost!

Plate of macaroni and cheese

Mac & cheese is easy to make from scratch and, with a few tweaks, you can amp up the nutrition and taste!

The snow has been falling and the days are getting shorter. Yes, winter has arrived in northern B.C.! These chilly evenings have me turning to soups, stews, and hearty comfort foods.

Comfort foods often get a bad rap when it comes to nutrition. We often think of comfort foods as being heavy, rich, and lacking in the vegetable department. But there isn’t any good reason they have to be this way. Most classic comfort foods can be easily modified to boost their nutrition and still be warm and satisfying enough for even the coldest winter night.

Mac & cheese is probably one of my favourite comfort food meals to make at home. Not only is it an easy dish to make from scratch, but with only a few little tweaks, you can amp up the nutrition and taste:

  • It’s easy enough to switch out regular macaroni for whole grain pasta to add some extra fibre to your meal.
  • Using an old or aged cheddar allows you to use less cheese while keeping that cheesy flavour.
  • And I always add some vegetables to my mac & cheese to make it a complete meal.

Some great vegetable choices include:

  • steamed cauliflower or broccoli
  • frozen peas or corn
  • sautéed mushrooms
  • puréed butternut squash
  • dark leafy greens, like spinach or kale

Here, I’ve used baby kale in my favourite mac & cheese recipe because it has a more mild flavour than regular kale and it requires less prep. If baby kale isn’t available, you can easily substitute chopped fresh, frozen, or canned kale instead.

Casserole dish with mac & cheese

Marianne’s recipe calls for kale, but cauliflower, broccoli, peas, corn, mushrooms, or squash are all great mac & cheese additions!

Oh Kale Yeah! Mac & Cheese

Recipe from Evergreen Eats

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole grain pasta (such as macaroni, rotini, or penne)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded old cheddar (the older the better!)
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 cups of baby kale, packed
  • 1/2 cup herb and garlic croutons, crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Cook pasta per package directions, until al dente.
  3. While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stir and cook for 1 minute, without browning.
  4. Lower the heat, and gradually whisk in milk. Stir until bubbles form around the edges, and sauce thickens. Do not boil.
  5. Stir in cheddar cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm over low heat until pasta is cooked.
  6. Drain pasta, and add it to the cheese sauce, along with the baby kale. Stir until combined and kale has wilted slightly. Transfer to baking dish, and top with crushed croutons.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until top is crispy and golden brown.

Notes:

  • No croutons? No problem! You can use breadcrumbs, panko, or even crushed crackers or a few potato chips.
  • As the cheese, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce are all salty, taste your sauce before adding any extra salt – you might find you don’t need it!
Marianne Bloudoff

About Marianne Bloudoff

Born and raised in BC, Marianne moved from Vancouver to Prince George in January 2014. She is a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health's population health team. Her passion for food and nutrition lured her away from her previous career in Fisheries Management. Now, instead of counting fish, she finds herself educating people on their health benefits. In her spare time, Marianne can be found experimenting in the kitchen and writing about it on her food blog, as well as exploring everything northern B.C. has to offer.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Don’t resolve – just stay active!

Winter landscape

For Jim, his camera is “a fine companion that ensures that I will park my vehicle and get active by walking through the snow to take photographs of the scenes I’ve spotted.” How can you stay active in the winter?

As I look out my window at a cold, bleak day, all the revelry of the holiday season is fast dissipating, and I am now faced with a dreadful reality. Tradition dictates that I must somehow “resolve” to change in the new year. And so, off I go “resolving” to do many great deeds of magnificent valor!

It seems almost inevitable that these things, grand as they may be, are stopped in their tracks by mid-February by the lack of forethought or plan. This is why I’ve written about SMART and SMARTER goals instead of resolutions before! They work!

Don’t resolve, just stay active!

According to Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Living, activity plays an important role in quality of life and feeling of well-being that Canadians experience. It is also noted that active people live longer, more productive lives and are more likely to avoid illness and injury.

In the north, we are blessed by beautiful surroundings.

Getting out and enjoying the northern weather in winter is of course something that is wonderful. Just think of skating on a frozen lake on a sunny day, skiing or snowboarding on our amazing hills, or snowshoeing through the forest. And being active doesn’t have to mean snow sports, of course. Snow shovel, anyone?

With all of these activities, there should be a thought towards the issue of safety. Think proper footwear and clothing and a knowledge of the hazards of our beautiful northern winters, like the dangers of the cold and slipping on ice. Once prepared, then enjoy and have your spirits lifted!

Winter landscape in daytime

Heading out to take photos? Be sure to check the conditions and let someone know where you’re going!

For me, a camera is a fine companion that ensures that I will park my vehicle and get active by walking through the snow to take photographs of the scenes I’ve spotted. If you are doing this, I would suggest from experience letting someone know where you are going. Better still, take someone along for the ride! Remember to check out the weather conditions before setting out so that you can dress accordingly.

Not everyone can do the outdoors thing, but for those who can, there is often the bonus of fresh crisp air and the heat of the sun, even on the coldest days. Not to mention the birds, elk, moose and breathtaking scenery! For those with conditions like asthma who can’t tolerate the cold air, there is sometimes the opportunity to go to an indoor mall or other facility and either walk in a group or individually. Organized walks indoors also bring the benefits of being around other people so the activity is enhancing both physical and mental well-being. Look for these facilities in your local community and join a group. It will help with motivation!

Winter can be a trying time for all of us but with a little preparation and some forethought (think SMART goal-setting!) we can fill our winter months with activity and be healthier individuals and communities by spring!

So don’t focus on things like weight or resolutions. Rather, set a SMART goal, start moving and keep moving. It’ll do you good!

Stay well. Only 3 months left. Well, OK … 4, maybe 5?

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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Mikaila’s Story – Gear Up for Winter

Mikaila was only 13 years old when a family ski trip to Nelson, BC took a turn for the worse. She recalled the weather conditions at the mountain being very windy and icy that day. She was also not very familiar with her surroundings as it was her first time at this particular location.

snowboarder on a hill

“…the decisions you make about your safety can prevent serious outcomes.”

The last thing Mikaila remembered was waiting in line for the chairlift with her sister, from that moment on her memory was wiped. She was told by her sister that it was going to be their last run of the day, and then the crash happened. Mikaila had lost control. She was headed off the trail weaving quickly through the trees. She believes she most likely hit a patch of ice and was trying to slow down. She turned to carve but crashed right into a tree. Unfortunately, Mikaila was not wearing a helmet.

After the impact from the crash and taking a blow to the head, she was unresponsive and in a coma. Once help had arrived and she was stabilized, Mikaila was flown by an emergency helicopter to BC’s Children Hospital in Vancouver. The doctors found a significant amount of intracranial bleeding and debated whether surgery would be necessary or if the bleeding would resolve itself. Mikaila remained on a respirator for 2 and ½ days. Her total hospital stay was 6 days; 3 days in the intensive care unit and few on the ward with her family at her side. The doctor believed that a helmet would have deflected the impact of the crash and protected her brain.

Mikaila shared that the first thing she remembered was the breathing tube being pulled from her throat accompanied by a couple flashes of her family nearby. Her recovery continued at home with a long stretch of time spent on bed rest. Although she is an active individual, involved in many sports, Mikaila was unable to get back into all of her activities for some time following the crash. When she was allowed to play soccer again she was advised not to head the ball and had to be very cautious. Mikaila was very fortunate but the impact on herself and family has had lasting effects.

Mikaila received a helmet that following Christmas as a gift and encourages everyone to wear one as well. She stated, “To this day I have never been able to remember the crash or even the recovery in the hospital, so it almost feels like it didn’t happen to me. I still go snowboarding as often as I can and I’m committed to wearing my helmet on every run. If I forget, my mom is sure there to remind me of the dangers and how lucky I am to be here today!”

What is the take-home message to Mikaila’s story? Injuries happen in predictable patterns and the decisions you make about your safety can prevent serious outcomes. Wearing a helmet can make a difference in reducing the risk of a head injury while keeping you active and having fun on the hill with your family and friends, doing what you love. So next time you hit the slopes, take a minute to remember Mikaila’s story and your safety. Gear up for winter!


You can win a new winter sport helmet by entering your favourite place to ‘gear up’ on northern BC – check out our Facebook page (by 2pm, Thursday, Jan. 28) for more details!


 

Alandra Kirschner

About Alandra Kirschner

Originally from Abbotsford, Alandra moved to northern B.C. in 2012 to pursue schooling to become a Registered Nurse. A 4th year UNBC student (BS, Nursing), Alandra is passionate about her field, especially acute care and mental health/addictions. In her free time, you’ll find her practicing yoga, watching movies, camping, and travelling.

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Foodie Friday: The humble but nutritious squash

This time of year I find myself turning to comfort foods. Perhaps it’s the cold weather or maybe it’s the darker days, but I find myself turning more to casseroles and stews, rather than salads and sandwiches.

Stuffed squash on a plate

For Rebecca, stuffed acorn squash is a go-to comfort recipe for the winter. What healthy recipes do you turn to during our winter months?

Today, I want to share one of my comfort recipes that my daughter and I love! My daughter loves being able to eat this dish right out of the squash shell. Try it with your kids and I’m sure they’ll love it, too!

Winter squash come in a number of varieties and are widely available in the grocery store this time of year. They’re a great, versatile vegetable that is quite shelf-stable, lasting months if kept in a cool spot. Squash are a nutrition powerhouse, too. Most are very high in vitamin A, fibre, potassium and magnesium. Most commonly, squash are used in soups, stuffed, mashed as a side dish, or used in pie (mmm, pumpkin!).

Beef-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home.

Yields 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 2 small acorn squash
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ lb (500 g) ground beef
  • 2 tbsp chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp celery*
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp ground sage
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup cooked rice
  • ¼ cup cheddar cheese

Instructions

  1. Cut squash in half and remove seeds and membranes. Place squash cut side down in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Add water and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 375 F for 50-60 minutes or until a knife inserts into the flesh easily.
  2. Meanwhile, cook beef, onion and celery over medium heat in a saucepan until the beef is no longer pink. Stir in flour, salt and sage until well blended. Add milk and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Stir in rice.
  3. Transfer squash to a baking sheet and place flesh side up. Fill cavity with meat mixture. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven; sprinkle with cheese and bake for 3-5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

*I didn’t have celery, so I used red pepper instead.

Rebecca Larson

About Rebecca Larson

Rebecca works in Vanderhoof and the surrounding communities as a dietitian. She was born in the north and returned after her schooling. Rebecca loves tobogganing with her daughter in the winter, gardening and camping in the summer and working on her parents cattle ranch in her spare time.

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Children follow by example – how are you leading?

Skaters on an outdoor ice surface

Spending more time outdoors and being active every day is a great way to beat the “winter blues.” Take your family for a skate or walk to a local event – your kids will follow your healthy example!

Although slower to start this year, winter is upon us. Days are shorter, darker, and colder and for some of us the “winter blues” might be settling in. Feelings of low energy, tiredness, and a lack of motivation can be felt by both adults and children during these winter months. The challenge for us all is to resist going into hibernation mode and to instead find ways to beat the “blues.” Even though it might seem easier and warmer to stay cooped up indoors, it is not necessarily better for our bodies to do this.

Helping children enjoy all that winter has to offer will have positive benefits for adults and children alike. Here are some suggestions that might help you and your children to stay energized and happy during this winter season. Remember, children follow by example!

  • Plan to be active every day. Exercise is not only good for your physical health, it also helps to improve your mood.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Your mood and energy levels can be affected by what and when you eat. Eating healthy foods will give your body the nutrients needed to help stabilize your blood sugar and energy levels.
  • Spend more time outdoors. Lack of sunlight can affect your mood. Make a plan to spend a little more time outdoors, particularly around midday to take advantage of sunlight or daylight. Bundle up to stay warm and to avoid frostbite.
  • Sleep. Try to keep bedtime and waking time consistent as this will help you to have more energy. Oversleeping can actually make you more tired.
  • Be proactive. Make a plan together with your family and friends to help each other to stay active and engaged during winter.

So I challenge you today to start making your plan to stay active indoors and outdoors this winter. Try something new to beat the “winter blues” and make wintertime fun!

What are you doing today?


This article was originally published in A Healthier You magazine. The newest issue of our healthy living magazine is now available online!

 

Karen Wonders

About Karen Wonders

Karen was born and raised in Ottawa and over the last 30 years has lived in various cities and communities in Alberta and B.C. She has a nursing degree from the University of Victoria and currently lives and works in Prince George as a Public Health Nursing Program Manager. Karen is a strong advocate for the health of children and youth with her primary focus being in the area of "healthy schools". She is a director on the board of the Directorate of Agencies for School Health, which adds great value and is complementary to her. In her spare time, Karen enjoys travelling, spending time with her family and friends, and taking long walks with her dog Theodore.

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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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