Legacy grants get northern communities healthy

Northern Health announced the final recipients Monday for its Imagine Legacy Grants, a partnership with the Canada Winter Games meant to create lasting healthy lifestyles.

Combined the 42 organizations from 14 northern communities have received almost $150,000. The projects run the gambit from community kitchens and gardens to promoting healthy lifestyles and building culture.

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One grant meant about 30 students at Van Bien and Spruceland elementary schools could train four times a week ahead of Sunday's Iceman event.

Community coordinators John Giannisis and Stephanie D'Ilario were glowing the day after their students' showing.

"The kids did phenomenal," said Giannisis, adding the grant helped them tackle what he sees as a lack of activity in the schools.

"It was amazing to watch them go from not really wanting to [do activity], to all of a sudden they're at the event and they're just going as hard as they can."

One of Giannisis' students is from Nicaragua.

"He'd never skated or skied. He'd never seen ice or snow before this year," Giannisis said.

Naturally, the Van Bien student did the cross-country leg of Iceman.

D'Ilario added they're working hard to build relationships between the inner city schools, which means they can offer more programming for the kids.

"It's amazing to see them realize that they can achieve so much more than they thought they could," said D'Ilario, who works out of Spruceland.

Vincent Prince, executive director of the Aboriginal Business and Community Development Centre, helped his organization get an Imagine grant as well as one for the Prince George Native Friendship Centre.

Both projects had a focus on healthy eating, with one involving a class aimed at lower-income families.

"We can teach people to create recipes on a limited budget," said Prince, noting the participants are taken through the whole process from planning to shopping to cooking.

There have already been three sessions and Prince expects to have 11 over the course of the year, something that should mean families can start buying better foods.

"Too many processed foods really interferes with overall health."

Northern Health's chief medical health officer was on hand Monday to speak to the importance of physical activity and how it can impact chronic disease prevention.

"Being active is very important for your body and your mind," said Dr. Sandra Allison, adding it reduces risk for heart disease and cancer, slows the progression of Alzheimer's and dementia and decreases anxiety and depression among a litany of other benefits.

She said something as simple as walking makes the difference. Northern Health has a campaign promoting 150 minutes of moderate activity per week, and Allison said that can be broken down into small bouts of exercise.

"That's all it takes."

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