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Summer @ PLAY – Selfie Contest

New this summer, UHN Wellness is encouraging all employees, physicians, students and volunteers to PLAY.  What activities, games or hobbies bring you joy?

Enter the UHN Wellness Summer Selfie Contest by submitting photos of you and your colleagues @ PLAY.

Send selfies to (please write “Summer Selfie” in the subject line and include the names of all those in the photo in the email).

Submission deadline is Thursday, August 27. All entries received prior to this day will be eligible to win fabulous prizes!!!

Last week, as part of the PLAY @ UHN Program, UHN Wellness distributed Play-Doh and Bubble Gum to several employees at various sites, for their enjoyment.  Here are a couple of the photos that were submitted:

image006                              IMG_5158

For more information on the PLAY @ UHN Program, click here.

*By submitting your photos, you acknowledge that they may be utilized by UHN Wellness (Corporate Intranet, Living Well @ UHN Blog, @UHNLivingWell on Twitter, UHN Wellness Centre on Facebook)

Success!!!!!!! Share Lisa’s story

Originally published in summer newsletter 2012, written by Lisa Vanlint.

Back in 2000, I was a bit of a cautionary tale, definitely the “before” picture in any ad campaign. I weighed over 200 lbs., I smoked half a pack/day, I liked any drink that came with an umbrella, and I considered myself a healthy eater since onion rings are vegetables, right?



The thing is, I didn’t feel like I was doing anything wrong. I really did think I was eating moderately because I would turn down a piece of cake or an extra helping even though I wanted it, and I said no to some of the fattier/richer stuff. I just said yes a lot more than I said no. I figured I had one of those unfortunate metabolisms that nature decided should stay large no matter what. I had basically given up and tried to get comfortable buying yet another pair of pants in yet another larger size. Even so, a 40” waistband was hard to swallow…even harder when those 40” felt snug. But there were friends to meet at the pub. Oh, and its half-price wing night, so it’s better to get the party-size-platter. Life was fun, but I didn’t feel so great…not just physically, emotionally too.

 Flash to 2006, and I had a baby on the way, a very happy and exciting time! I had already given up smoking thanks to a nasty bout of pneumonia a few years back, and I was happy to make the umbrella drinks virgins for 9 months, but my food choices still led to borderline gestational diabetes. As much as I hated injecting insulin, pricking my fingers to test blood sugar is not only a pain in the ass, it really hurt! A lot!

Thanks to a doctor-order visit to the Dietician to manage my blood sugar, I learned about a crazy concept called portion control. I also learned to eat several smaller meals to level out the peaks and valleys. More importantly, I had to learn that having several smaller meals does not mean grazing all day on what adds up to one gigantic meal. I’ve tried to keep these lessons with me, though sometimes I need a gentle reminder/kick in the pants. I love the wellness blog for that.

Up until now, I had a lot of little a-ha moments, but never anything truly earth-shattering. That moment came after the birth of our son, all 9 lbs. of bouncing baby boy. Normally a newborn’s blood sugar is tested just once. Because of my gestational diabetes which, let’s face it, came from a lifetime of my excesses, they needed to test him every few hours. Each time they pricked his tiny heel and made him bleed, I wanted to cry or die.

So A-HA happened. I had luckily given birth to the best personal trainer and inspiration you could ask for. Our son was hard to soothe unless I held him and did deep knee bends, danced him around in SalsaBabies or FitMom classes, or took him for a powerwalk. Later, when he started walking, then running, I realized I needed to be in a lot better shape to keep up with him.

Transitioning back to work meant saying goodbye to the mommy classes that I liked so much, but I didn’t want to lose what I started. I joined GoodLife gym and tried every class they had. I like the social aspect, and that I don’t have to make it up as I go along, I can follow the trained professional. Some classes I liked (Combat! Pump! Flow!), and some not so much (Alison, you may have the Step class to yourself), but I just kept going and mixed it up to keep it fresh and fun.

Slowly but surely, I dropped a lot of weight and felt more energetic and better in general. When we took a family trip to the beach I no longer felt embarrassed to wear a bathing suit. I went for a nice powerwalk but found the strangest thing… a powerwalk was no longer enough to get my heart rate up. I experimented with this crazy idea of running and found that I could actually do it. I started by just running during the chorus of songs, then walking during the verses. Then I ran for a whole song, but walked for 2 and repeated that a few times. I slowly built up my running /walking ratio from choruses to 1/2 to 1/1, to 2/1 and finally running straight for 5 km.

That 5 km led to more and I ran my first half marathon in 2010. That’s 21.1 km of pure running. I’d now done 4 Half Marathons, but hadn’t done anything as long as Around the Bay, the oldest race in North America. Clocking in at 30 KM, and with the last 10 km of hill after hill, it was going to be a stretch. What a crazy thing to try for a former smoker who used to weigh over 200 lbs.



March 25th, 2012, 9:30 AM, a shot rang out and we were off, all 6,121 of us. There was a time in Around the Bay that I really thought I wasn’t going to make it. Somewhere in the 22 – 27 km range, I felt my right calf, quad and both hamstrings threaten to pop. My breathing up the hills started to have a soft screaming sound to it like a tennis player. I had luckily made peace with my long term goal over my short term one.

My long term goal is to run a half marathon every year till I’m 60 (hopefully with my son when he’s old enough), then a 10 K every year till age 70, then a 5 K every year till 80. Then if I’m still kickin’ it, I might take up swimming. My short term goal is to run the current race as fast as I can. I had hoped to do it in less than 3 hours, but it was clear at the 22 km mark that I needed to stop looking at my watch and just focus on finishing the race.

I had to take some walking breaks up those hills, and after passing a few runners waylaid on the side with medics hovering over them, I knew I was doing the right thing and the best I could do on the day. In the end, I had nothing left in the tank. I had run out of fumes a few kilometers ago and was running on the memory of fumes. I thought about my friends and family that had driven in from Toronto and were waiting for me to cross the finish line. There was no way in hell I was going to walk across it, I needed to run strong. That thought motivated me for the final 3 km till I crossed that beautiful line and knew that I had done it!

So what’s next? After some well-earned R&R, I’m now staring at my latest registration, the 2012 Toronto Waterfront Marathon…the full, not the half. I registered early since a. it will motivate me to keep running all summer and fall; b. the earlier you register, the cheaper it is; and c. I’d like to do just 1 full marathon in a bucket-list kind of way. 42.2 km terrifies me, but I’m going to try. How about you?

Making Changes: The ‘AH-HA’ Moment

Making Changes:
The ‘AH-HA’ Moment

By: Velta Vikmanis

In 2005 I moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Toronto and while waiting for my immigration documents I began volunteering at TGH in the Volunteer Resources Department getting to know the hospital and staff. Soon after, I joined the Staffing Department in Human Resources. A year later I was an instructor in the SIMS Education department before settling in Corporate Nursing where I have been the Coordinator of Nursing Transitions & Commitment for more than three years.

Do you ever have that moment when you are ask yourself, how did I get here? I did, lots of times but I never did anything about it until one day I was forced to reflect on an unpleasant possibility.  My husband’s health was becoming a greater concern since we relocated to Toronto. Diagnosed with Type II diabetes while living in Minnesota and not really listening to anyone’s advice about the recommended lifestyle changes we continued on the comfortable path of self indulgence and waiting for the quick fix. Then in 2006, just before Christmas he had to have an emergency angioplasty. This was the first time that things started to come into focus. There were some slight changes but not enough to navigate us off the path of health-destruction.

After a vacation in 2010 the physicians told my husband, change or you will be insulin dependant. AH HA! It was the moment of clarity when it all came together. Why this time? Why were other moments less significant? Why did we begin the journey of true lifestyle change with those words? Who knows but what I know for sure is that we are never going back.

I need variety and I need to set goals for myself. Stair climbing at work seemed a good way to start. No gym membership required and you have someone to talk to while you climb. A small group from Corporate Nursing started climbing the Eaton building every day at noon and soon I had others joining us from General Internal Medicine and other departments.  We started off slowly climbing to the top and back down and now we climb five times and elevator down in 30 minutes or less. For the second year I climbed the CN tower for United Way with team UHN and I look forward to doing it again in 2012. 

We started a Biggest Loser challenge in Corporate Nursing. Individuals pay $20 for five weeks and the Wellness Centre tracks weekly weigh-ins of participants.  The individual with the greatest percentage of weight loss walks away with the cash.  It is a nice added incentive to maintain an active lifestyle and seek out new fitness goals.

The greatest resource for me has been the Wellness Centre. For the first time in my life I tried a group exercise class and encouraged others from my area to participate. It was a nice break in the day and I got to interact with colleagues on a more personal level. I also got to meet other UHN staff that I did not have an opportunity to interact with in my role. The new goal, new challenge search continued and our Boxercise class instructor offered a free personal training session for anyone in the class. Now I work with Suzanna Dreifelds twice a week on muscle toning and strengthening. She listens to what my goals are and what I want to accomplish. With a great deal of humour, patience and encouragement Suzanna is helping me get there.  What next?  The running clinic!

So, it has been 16 months since the “AH HA” moment and the permanent changes that have led me to being a Wellness Leader. (Never thought that would happen) This adventure has impacted me in such a significant way that it is very hard to articulate. I feel better, look better and cope with everyday life better with greater enthusiasm and passion.
The greatest bonus… all of the remarkable people that I have met along the way!

Road to a Healthier Lifestyle

By: Jill Nelson

For most of my life, I’ve been the classic couch potato.  Never gifted at sports, some of my more unpleasant early memories involve the shame of being the last one picked for a team in Phys-Ed class, the embarrassment of performing a dance in front of classmates, and the fear of performing tumbles and leaps in gymnastics.  So I came to exercise later in life, and with a fair amount of baggage. 

My road to a healthier lifestyle really started at UHN with the “10K a Day challenge” in 2007, which I joined to prepare for the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers.  The need to stretch after all that Walking (and the encouragement of my boss) led to an exploration of Yoga.  But three years later, my exercise regime still depended on walking and doing yoga, and my dwindling energy levels told me I needed something more.   I checked out the “Personal Fitness” program offered at the UHN Wellness Centre.  The cost was half that offered anywhere else, so I took the plunge – signing up for 10 weeks.

My stereotype of a personal trainer was of a no-nonsense, strict and painfully fit person who would be appalled at my lack of enthusiasm for jumping jacks, and bored by having to train a middle aged woman.  My first meeting with my trainer at the Wellness Centre dispelled those myths.   Susanna is young, enthusiastic, and was totally focused on helping me, WHERE I WAS AT.   When she asked if there were any challenges to my starting an exercise program, I explained that as a working mom of two busy kids I had no spare time, am bone-lazy and don’t like to exercise.  Undaunted, she helped me set simple and manageable goals.  Early on, my “homework” was to go to a foreign place: a gym.  She encouraged me to give it a try – even if I wasn’t a slim, spandex-clad athlete.  And having gone once, I knew I wasn’t the only one in the gym puffing on the exercise bike in a t-shirt.  After a few weeks of meeting the simple goals Susanna and I set, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and I didn’t want to give it up.  I’ve stayed with it ever since.

Susanna has maintained her cheerful personality and enthusiasm for our workouts (which involve a lot of laughter.)    She works with me to set reasonable goals, encourages me to try new things, and celebrates my victories.   Once a week she emails me an extra “challenge” that reminds me there are a myriad of ways to be more well, and mostly they are enjoyable and easy when they are broken down into smaller bits: get 8 hours of sleep a night; get out in the fresh air, try something new, eliminate salty or sweet snacks for a week.  All good, and all do-able.         

So what’s changed?  Well, I’m still a working mother with two active kids, I’m still pretty lazy, and I don’t love all exercise.  But my perspective has changed entirely.   I love how I feel AFTER working out.  And I’m not averse to sweating anymore, in fact I make room for two spinning classes a week.  I am stronger, more flexible, and definitely have more energy.  I’ve lost weight, and although there’s a ways to go, I’m finding it easy enough to keep it off without dieting, just because of the increase in activity.   The lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t need to completely transform into the spandex-clad athlete to make a positive improvement in your wellness.  Take a step today … it WILL lead to better things.

Leading a Healthy Lifestyle

Leading a Healthy Lifestyle
Written by: Heather Gordon

Heather Gordon has been assisting with wellness in the workplace since 2001 and  has contributed significantly to wellness at UHN since she joined a year & a half ago.  Moreover, she continues to work in this area in the community at large. Heather works as a Social Worker in the Red Blood Cell Disorders Program at TGH and she also provided coverage in the Bariatric program at TWH from October 2010 to May 2011.

Heather facilitated stress management workshops at the Wellness Centre in November 2010 and February 2011.  She also facilitated the same workshop for staff at an outpatient clinic at TWH in March 2011.

Heather also spearheaded the running club and is co-leading it with Kevin Majchrzak, UHN Wellness Analyst. The running club meets each Tuesday at 5pm.  For more information or to join, contact Kevin at ext. 4486.

Heather walks to and from work each day and said she has high energy once she arrives at work. She deals with a lot of stressful situations in her role as a social worker and she indicated that  “I always strive for work-life balance and to maintain a positive outlook at all times.”

Using a holistic approach, Heather is very enthusiastic as she incorporates holistic living in her day to day life. She participates in a number of different activities that promotes a healthy lifestyle at UHN.

Heather is passionate about assisting people and organizations within the community.  She has donated both her time and money to assist charities.  For example she donates money to the YMCA where she has been a member since 1999. This donation supports the Health, Fitness and Recreation programs for people with low income.  Furthermore, she has participated in a number of sporting activities that support charities such as the 10K, half marathon run both in Ottawa and Toronto, & most recently the Scotiabank half marathon.

Heather believes that addressing emotional stress, managing finances, staying active, eating and sleeping well are key components of wellness. She has had to face adversities in her younger years but has overcome them through her resiliency and using the resources around her to strive for wellness at all times.

Heather encourages others to use the EAP service available to all staff because it is free and confidential. “Wellness will always be at the forefront of my life and I will always remain committed to self-care, sharing my knowledge, skills & resources and striving for work-life balance,” said Heather.

Heather has some suggestions for everyone to commit to wellness:  go for walks, bring your lunches, walk to work if you can, take your breaks, sign up for a massage or a fitness class, take care of your finances, take advantage of counseling services and maintain healthy relationships. Heather also recommends that everyone “Do their best to eat and sleep well and most importantly let’s keep encouraging one another as a community!”