Health and Happiness  

Health, happiness forever

Thank you, Castanet, for giving me a platform to share my passion for preventative medicine.

As my year with the publication draws to a close, I’d like to look back on past articles and offer a roundup of my advice to live happy and healthy.

Throughout the last year, I’ve written my Spotlight Series, a series of articles that focus on common and preventable diseases. From heart disease to dementia, diabetes to arthritis, these articles look at the aetiology and pathology of the disease, as well as the signs and symptoms.

Most important, the articles explore what we can do to help prevent these conditions from even starting.

There is a common thread that runs through every article:

  • Eat well
  • Exercise
  • Look after your mental health.

Eating well means vegetables, fruit, fibre – let’s focus on what we can eat, not what we can’t. We are incredibly lucky to live in the Okanagan, with fruit stands around every corner; it couldn’t be easier to eat local, fresh produce.

Exercising is different for everyone, but again I marvel at how many wonderful opportunities we have to exercise in the Okanagan.

Whether you want to bike, run, ski, hike, swim, paddle board, go to the gym or enjoy yoga, it’s all on our doorstep. We’ve had to get creative since COVID-19; traditional gym classes are out, so we’ve entered the age of Zoom dance lessons and socially distanced yoga.

Whatever you enjoy doing, do it. Raise your heart rate and get your body moving; your heart, lungs and joints will love you for it.

I’ve also written about COVID-19, and how it has affected our community. From rounding up the latest information about vaccines to encouraging everyone to wear masks, socially distance and follow guidelines, it has been the dominating health news story and a prominent feature in my column.

However, our health shouldn’t be dominated by conversations around COVID-19. In April last year, I encouraged you to think about your other health concerns, and make sure they didn’t get ignored during the pandemic.

That sentiment stands more than ever; if you’re due for an appointment, blood work or a physical, please get it booked.

Lastly, I’ve continually written about the importance of mental health. From mental health first aid, to lowering stress in aid of heart disease and the impacts of COVID-19 on our mental health, I’ve discussed how crucial it is to check in with ourselves and our loved ones.

If you think you’re experiencing mental health issues, I urge you to please see your family doctor, or at least speak to someone about how you’re feeling.

Even if you’re not concerned about your mental health, please remember to be kind to yourself. It has been an incredibly challenging year for so many reasons, and it’s taken it’s toll on us all. Give yourself some slack.

Be kind to others and be kind to yourself. Eat well, exercise, and look after your mental health.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and all my articles; it has been a pleasure to write for you.

Ask the doctor

We’ve been told we live in an unprecedented time; uncertainty is rife as traditional news channels are challenged by information we see on social media and YouTube.

It’s hard to know what is true and what is opinion. I’d like to open up this column to you, the reader.

What questions do you have?

Whether it’s about the COVID-19 pandemic, preventative health, queries about a certain condition or medical myths you’re unsure about, get in touch via the comments section or by emailing [email protected].

From how COVID is spread, to questions about the vaccine’s efficacy after one dose, it’s understandable to question our current situation.

We have so many news outlets competing for our attention that it can be difficult to ascertain the truth.

Peer reviewed, official sources like the B.C. CDC website or Up-To-Date are our best bet for finding accurate information.

Please get in touch with questions that you want answered, myths you want busting or concerns that you have.

Remember, this is not a substitute for seeing your doctor; no personal medical advice will be given.

If you are worried about your own health, please get an appointment to see your family physician.

Spotlight on: Arthritis

The Spotlight series is a series of articles looking at common, and preventable, diseases.

I explain the science behind the condition, how to spot early signs and what you can do to prevent it.

The Science

Arthritis refers to a multitude of conditions that cause inflammation and pain in the joints. Arthritis can be split into osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

One in five Canadians live with arthritis; it is common in older age, although young people can also suffer from it.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and also the most preventable. It is caused by joint damage that occurs over time with aging, or due to injury.

Osteoarthritis causes a loss of cartilage, which is the material that covers and protects the bones.

Without cartilage, the bones grind against one another, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the knees, hips, hands and spine.

Inflammatory arthritis is a collective term for all the other types of arthritis.

Common examples are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Lupus.

Inflammatory arthritis not only affects the joints, but also other systems in the body. They are caused by autoimmune disorders, where the body’s immune system attacks the tissue in and around the joint.

This causes pain, stiffness and swelling, as well as systemic symptoms like fevers, weight loss and fatigue.

Signs and Symptoms

All types of arthritis cause pain, stiffness and swelling of one or more joints. The symptoms can change during the day, and also with exercise and rest. Typically, cold weather also worsens symptoms.

Eventually, this can lead to reduced mobility.

How to Prevent Arthritis

Many factors affecting your risk of arthritis cannot be controlled, such as your genetics and gender. However, some factors can be prevented.

If you have a strong family history of arthritis, it’s worth going to your family doctor to discuss your risk. Be mindful of the signs and symptoms, as getting treatment early can make a big difference.

In terms of preventing arthritis, the most important factor is maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight puts excess force through your joints with each step you take, increasing the wear and tear on the joint and ultimately causing long term damage.

Maintaining a healthy weight for your height is crucial in preventing arthritis.

As well as eating healthily to maintain a good weight, getting regular exercise is ideal. The best form of exercise for preventing arthritis is a mix of cardiovascular and strength training; for instance, try alternating swimming or cycling with weight training.

This strengthens your body without putting too much stress on any one joint.

As well as the injury from excess weight, other injuries to your joints can increase your risk of arthritis.

Be careful when exercising and playing sports, and remember to always warm up and cool down to reduce your risk of an injury. If appropriate, consider joint supports if you do have an existing injury.

You can also reduce your risk of injury by being careful lifting heavy objects, sitting in an ergonomic position if you work at a desk and using a backpack to carry heavy items, rather than carrying items on one arm.

If you are concerned about an existing injury or the possibility of one, speak to your family doctor or physiotherapist.

Take Home Message

Although some factors are out of your control, there is plenty that you can do to reduce your risk of arthritis.

It can be a debilitating disease, so getting plenty of exercise, eating well and maintaining a healthy weight are ways that you can significantly reduce your risk of the disease.

Be mindful of any existing injuries, and look after your joints to prevent any new ones.

Return to normality by fall

This week, Public Health Authority Canada stated that all Canadians who want to be vaccinated will receive it by September 2021.

This comes as a 64-year-old residential care home worker was the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in B.C. This dose was among 4,000 doses that have arrived in the province, to be delivered over the coming days. 

Canada has signed agreements with seven different companies for up to 418 million doses of the vaccine. This is to ensure that an effective and safe vaccine is available to Canadians, even if some of the vaccines don’t make it past clinical trials.

The two companies at the forefront are Pfizer and Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine has been approved by Health Canada, and the Moderna vaccine is pending approval and will be distributed once approved.

Each vaccine is slightly different, but currently require two separate doses, as well as logistical issues to do with transportation, storage and handling. The vaccine must be kept at very low temperatures, and thus the distribution of the vaccine across B.C., including its rural and remote communities, must be carefully planned. 

The B.C. CDC has confirmed the order in which people will get vaccinated, should they choose. The plan is to reduce the risk of severe outcomes and deaths due to COVID-19, and thus the vaccine will be first given to residents, staff and essential visitors of long-term care and assisted-living homes, as well as healthcare workers for COVID-19 patients in ICU, COVID-19 wards and emergency departments. 

A National Advisory Committee on Immunization also recommends that adults aged 70 and over, starting with those 80 years old and over, should be made a priority.

They also recommend early vaccinations for adults in Indigenous communities where infections can have disproportionate consequences. 

Key to this message is that people will be vaccinated “if they choose.” With anti-vaccination protests and rallies commonplace in Kelowna and B.C., it is clear that not all individuals are planning to get vaccinated.

While some are staunch activists against all vaccinations, others have specific concerns about this particular vaccine, especially due to the quick turn-a-round time. 

However, this vaccine has gone through all the same trials and met the same regulations as any other vaccine that has been approved for public use. It has gone through multiple stages of trials, including phase III trials which involve tens of thousands of people.

Health Canada has shortened the administrative and organizational process involved in approving the vaccine due to the urgent nature of the situation, without negatively impacting the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.

There has also been much more funding allocated to this vaccine compared to others, which has also sped up the process. 

However, although there is light at the end of the tunnel, recent events at Big White ski resort suggest that we must still be vigilant with our protection measures against COVID-19.

Social gatherings at private accommodations at the resort have seen over 60 cases; Interior Health is involved, and Big White has fired several staff members for breaching the social responsibility clause in their contract. 

Until Jan. 8, provincial health orders state that we must only socialize with those in our household, with exceptions for those that live alone or apart from their significant other.

Gatherings and parties are banned, and the latest news from Big White highlights the reason for this regulation. 

Keep wearing your mask in public places, stay home when sick, practice physical distancing and socialize only with those in your household; hopefully, this will all be over soon! 

More Health and Happiness articles

About the Author

Dr. Hannah Gibson graduated from medical school in the UK before moving to live in Canada. During her five years at university, she's worked in every department from pediatrics to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. Now based in Kelowna, she works to provide outreach healthcare for the homeless community. 

Hannah is passionate about preventative medicine, and the focus of her column is to educate and inspire people to take proactive measures to improve their health. 

Hannah believes that we all can, and should, take responsibility for our own health. It is the most important asset we have, and should be respected as such. Follow each week as she gives you the tools to improve your own health and wellbeing, and ultimately live a happier and healthier life. 

Get in touch through the comments section, or by emailing Hannah on [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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