It’s been a tough couple of years, hasn’t it? The pandemic, a long winter, and a cool, wet spring. It’s no surprise that 39% of Manitobans report their own focus on living healthy declined over the last two years. But, with things getting back closer to normal and summer approaching, it’s a great time for all of us to get back to our health. 

Throughout the month of June, we will be adding tips from local Manitoba doctors to help you focus on your health. And remember, if anything doesn’t feel right, or if you’ve missed a routine medical screening, contact your doctor. We’re here to help! 

Our tips to live healthy and prevent disease include the following topics 

Start Small

Some people are excited to get back to a more normal way of life this summer, and some might be a little anxious after two years of pandemic isolation and disruptions. Wherever you’re starting from, it’s a good time to focus on your health at your own pace. This could mean starting small, choosing just one item from our tips below, and trying to make a little progress each week.

Starting small could mean:

  • Trying to add some walking into your day if you haven’t been very active for a while, or finding ways to get your heart rate up for longer periods by hiking, jogging, biking, dancing, playing sports, or other activities.

  • Making small changes to what you eat that focus on healthy options, like more vegetables and fruits.

  • Hanging on to healthy habits you started during the pandemic. For example, if you cooked more at home instead of getting fast food, or if you consumed less alcohol, try to find a way to maintain those positive changes as we get back to a more normal way of life. 

  • Setting goals, but ensuring they are realistic for you. If your goals are too ambitious, it can get discouraging pretty quickly. People don’t just go from not being active at all to running a marathon. Set small goals, measure your progress, and then build on your success to create lasting healthy habits. 

Reconnect with Family and Friends

The pandemic disrupted a lot of our social connections with friends and family, and now is a good time to reconnect.

Loneliness and social isolation take a toll on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. Research has found it can contribute to depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. It can also contribute to stress and stress-related illnesses.

Quick tips to reconnect with family and friends:

  • Make a point of getting together with friends and family you’ve missed during pandemic isolation. Try going for coffee, going for a walk together, or other activities you both enjoy. 

  • Reach out to an old friend and reconnect.

  • Try a new hobby or activity with a friend or family-member or by joining a class. 

  • Make new connections through activities like joining a book club, gardening or painting group, parent-child club, sport or recreation team for youth, seniors groups, or try volunteering. 

  • Get involved in your community and participate in activities or events you’re passionate about. 

After two years, it can feel weird or difficult to restart social activities. This is not uncommon, and like everything else, it’s best to take this at your own pace. Try challenging yourself to say yes or getting something new in your calendar. 

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

Eat Healthy

Eating well-rounded meals and snacks is good for your physical, mental and social well-being. This is important for all ages, including for young children and at later stages of life. Eating healthy reduces your risk for medical issues like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity. It also helps to reduce stress and improve your mental health. 

Quick tips to eat healthier:

  • Add more vegetables and fruits to your diet. Choose lean protein and whole grains whenever possible. 

  • Limit fast food and processed foods.

  • Reduce high-fat and high-sugar meals and snacks. 

  • Focus on learning your body’s hunger cues to fuel your body’s needs to avoid overeating.

  • Cook and eat meals together with family and friends. Try a new recipe each week, and enjoy your food by eating slowly and mindfully.

Prices for a lot of things are going up right now, including healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. This can make it more difficult to find healthy options. Here are some tips to help with eating healthy on a tight budget:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Frozen or canned fruits or vegetables can be a good alternative to fresh ones. In-season local produce can often be cheaper. Try planting a garden or visiting a farmer’s market. Local delivery boxes are available as well. 

  • Proteins: Watch for cheaper cuts of meat, or fish and explore plant-based proteins like beans, tofu, nuts or lentils. 

  • Drinks: Replace sugary drinks and take-out coffees with water as your drink of choice.

  • Other tips: Plan your meals and shop with a list. Watch for sales and coupons. Try generic or store brands.

  • Cook and freeze so your healthy meal is ready and you don’t have to cook every day. Consider meal swaps. Cooking in batches can also save money and time. 

  • When needed, consider local food access programs. Look for emergency food options like food banks and community food supports. 

  • Get more tips from Heart & Stroke and from Canada’s Food Guide.

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

Nutri​tion​Facts​.org offers research-based nutritional information and recipes on social media, including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.

Move More & Sit Less

More and more research is showing just how important it is to add physical activity into our lives. It’s also proving that sitting (sedentary behaviour) is almost as bad for your health as smoking. 

Physical activity can include exercise as well as any movement or activities in leisure or work time that increase your heart rate and breathing. Experts recommend at least 2.5 hours of activity in total over the course of a week, or about 20 minutes per day. The activity should be vigorous enough to get your heart rate up. 

It’s important to take frequent breaks from sitting, including standing and some movement. Even if you meet the recommendations on physical activity, excessive sitting increases your risk for cancer and other diseases. Experts recommend limiting sedentary time to 8 hours per day or less, with as many breaks as possible. 

Moving more and sitting less reduces your risk for cancer, dementia, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and obesity. It helps with recovering from injury and illness. It also helps to reduce stress, improve mental health, boost your self-confidence, and enhance intimate relationships.

Quick tips to move more and sit less:

  • Start small. Add some extra steps by taking the stairs, parking a little further away, or getting off the bus one stop early. Work up to 10-minute periods of being active. 

  • Remember that being active includes exercise, such as walking, hiking, jogging, swimming, biking or playing sports, as well as other types of activities like walking the dog, cleaning and raking. Children are naturally active when they are playing outside with other children.

  • Take microbreaks” from sitting. Stand or walk around while talking on the phone. 

  • Focus on muscle and bone strengthening exercises.

  • Incorporate active transportation into your week, by biking or walking to work or social events.

  • Get outside more often, and be sure to use sunscreen. 

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

The Canadian Physician Activity Guidelines offers more information and tips on getting active.

Prioritize Good Sleep

A good night’s sleep is important for your overall health, including your brain performance, mood and health. Not getting enough good quality sleep raises the risk for many health issues, including fatigue, heart disease, stroke, obesity and dementia. 

Adults should make time for 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Children need more sleep with recommendations for different age groups available here.

Quick tips to improve your sleep:

  • Eliminate screen time in the hour before bedtime.

  • Try white noise, like a fan, to support a more restful night’s sleep. 

  • Make the room as dark and comfortable as possible, including facing your alarm clock towards the wall and placing your cell phone facedown.

  • Change your sheets weekly to reduce allergens that can disrupt your sleep.

  • A regular bedtime routine can help improve your sleep.

  • Be aware of caffeine and alcohol intake, as this can disrupt a good night’s sleep.

  • Talk to your doctor if you have persistent sleep issues. This could include whether medications are affecting your sleep, if ongoing pain, menopause, or conditions like depression or anxiety are affecting your sleep. You should also talk to a doctor about signs of sleep apnea, which include excessive snoring or long pauses between breaths while sleeping.

If you still find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, talk to your doctor about it at your next check up. 

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

  • MySleepWell sleep hygiene checklist, an initiative from Dalhousie University. 

  • Sleep Foundation is a source of sleep information with medically-reviewed articles and tips based on sleep science, as well as reviews of sleep and wellness products. 

Sleep On It, which offers age-specific dos and don’ts, a partnership of several sleep disorder and insomnia organizations.

Reduce Stress

Everyone experiences stress. Not all stress is bad and some can’t be avoided. Small amounts of stress can be helpful to motivate you, but long-term (chronic) stress can have serious consequences for your health. Preventing long-term stress can help to lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity, depression and anxiety. 

It’s important to notice when you feel stressed, and to learn to anticipate and prepare for events that can increase your stress.

Many of the tips above can help you manage your stress, such as prioritizing sleep, eating well and moving more. 

Quick tips to reduce stress 

  • Plan ahead. Prioritize tasks to do first

  • Talk to family or friends you trust

  • Try relaxation techniques, meditation, mindfulness, or deep breathing, including some free apps suggested below

  • Avoid or reduce alcohol and smoking tobacco or marijuana. They may mask stress short-term, but your body can rebound to a more stressful state later. 

  • Give yourself time for you every day, even just 10 minutes for a hobby, relaxation or to get outside and enjoy nature. 

  • Take time to focus on three things in your life you are grateful for. 

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

Try a free meditation or mindfulness app, like Insight Timer or MindShift CBT. There are also apps that have free components or trials like Headspaceand Calm.

Catch Up on Screenings

Routine medical screenings help to catch diseases before you feel symptoms or earlier when the disease is easier to treat. This may decrease your risk of dying from that disease and lead to better quality of life. Some routine medical screenings were unavailable during the pandemic, and some people skipped regular health checks over the last two years. In fact, 31% of Manitobans report they delayed seeking care during the pandemic. 

Now is a good time to start catching up. This includes:

  • Cancer screenings for breast and colorectal cancer (age 50 – 74) and cervical cancer (age 21 – 69). 

  • Routine monitoring for other chronic conditions and health concerns such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, or excessive alcohol use. 

  • Screening for sexually-transmitted and blood-born infections when indicated.

  • Screening for specific diseases if you have risk factors, such as a family history of a certain cancer.

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

If Needed, Call Your Doctor

If you have a new health concern, or an ongoing medical issue that should be monitored by a doctor, consider making an appointment to stay on top of your health. Doctors are here to help, and most offer both in-person and virtual visits for many issues.

You may need a check-up:

  • When you are sick or have a symptom or sign that could mean illness.

  • To manage a chronic medical condition or ongoing issue.

  • To monitor the effects of medications.

  • To monitor risks to your health from smoking, inactivity, substance use or other risk factors.

  • For sexual/​reproductive health questions or family planning.

  • To catch up on routine immunizations.

Through the pandemic, physicians have taken steps to ensure in-person visits are safe, and many now offer virtual visits on the phone or video for some issues as well.

There are parts of the health system that are still trying to catch up after disruptions during the pandemic, including some diagnostic testing and surgeries. While Doctors Manitoba continues to press for a plan to catch up and address long waits, you should not stay away if you think you might need medical help. Your doctor will assess your situation, make referrals as appropriate and get you on a waitlist to help get you the care you need. 

You can learn more and get additional tips from these sites:

  • Know your body, a resource from the Canadian Cancer Society, describes signs in your body that should trigger a visit to your doctor.

  • Health Check-Ups, a resource about when you need a check up with your doctor and when you don’t, from Choosing Wisely Canada.

  • Check out this recent story and podcast about whether it’s time for a regular check-up after the pandemic.

Family Doctor Finder is a service offered through your local regional health authority to help connect people with a new family physician.

Remember, to be COVID-wise

High vaccination rates and new treatment options are allowing us to return to a more normal way of life, but COVID-19 is still circulating. You or someone around you could be at higher risk for severe illness or death if they get COVID-19

  • Gather with others outside rather than inside when possible, and optimize ventilation in indoor spaces (e.g. open windows).

  • Keep up-to-date with COVID vaccinations, including booster shots. 

  • Stay home when ill.

  • Consider others around you who may be at higher risk if they catch COVID-19

Learn more at New​COVID​Nor​mal​.ca.

Further Reading

Healthy Parenting Winnipeg is a WRHA resource to help parents focus on health and well-being for children and youth. 

Reduce Your Risk is a cancer prevention resource from the Canadian Cancer Society, which offers important tips not mentioned above about smoking, limiting alcohol and being sun-safe. 

Cancer Prevention, a guide from CancerCare Manitoba with tips to cut your risk of cancer in half.

Healthy Living, a guide from the Heart & Stroke Foundation, with tips that can help to prevent 8 in 10 cases of premature heart disease and stroke. 

The Wellbeing Guide is a WRHA resource with evidence-based tips to help support good health and well-being. 

Avoid Frailty is a guide from the Canadian Frailty Network. Frailty is a significant issue for many older Manitobans, but many of the tips above and in this guide can help to reduce frailty. 

Live Well, a health and wellness guide from the Mayo Clinic in the U.S.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Supports is a listing of services and resources maintained by Wellness Together Canada.

The tips and health advice on this page were developed using published research, expert recommendations, as well as medical advice from local Manitoba physicians. In addition to the many sources noted above, we also drew on: 

Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, established by the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide evidence-based guidelines for primary care providers. 

Risk Factors for Dementia is an evidence-based research initiative by The Lancet that identifies risk factors you can control to reduce your risk of developing dementia later in life. 

Cancer risk factors, part of the ComPARe study from the Canadian Cancer Society, including specific estimates for Manitoba.

The Mental Health and Wellness Resource Finder provides a number of mental health, wellness and addictions supports and resources for you and those you care about.