Prevention & Recovery

Health advice from Canadian mothers

By: Linda Thompson

Author: Canadian Living

Prevention & Recovery

Health advice from Canadian mothers

By: Linda Thompson
When we were kids, our mothers told us to stand up straight and eat our vegetables. We may not have appreciated the advice at the time, but now we know that Mom's wellness tips were often right on. Here, three women share words of wisdom from their mothers on how to nurture body and spirit.

Healthy from the inside out
Corinne Frébourg, a 30-year-old interior designer in Whistler, B.C., learned the secrets of healthy skin from her mom, Jeannine, a naturopath. "I grew up in Quebec, where winters are harsh and can really dry your skin," she says. "From the time I was about 10 years old, my mom taught me how to care for my skin."

Corinne's skin-care regimen includes cleansing and moisturizing twice a day. She drinks two litres of water daily to avoid dehydration, which dries the skin.

Corinne also boosts her skin's health by eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as freshwater fish, walnuts and ground flaxseed. Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from food because they aren't produced by the body. "Eating foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids supports healthy cell development, and that will be reflected in healthy tissues in the skin, eyes and scalp," says Jenny Okroj, a health educator and public health nutritionist in Regina. "Our fat intake should account for no more than 30 per cent of calories a day, so our first priority should be to include foods that are sources of essential fatty acids."

Let's get physical
Figure skating, ballet, swimming, hiking – Brigitte Bastien did them all as a child. "I didn't know these activities were good for me – I just knew that I loved them," says Brigitte, 27, a teacher in Montreal. Brigitte credits her mom, Ghyslaine, for encouraging her to fi nd a physical activity she loved and to make it part of her life.

Today, Brigitte still loves to keep moving. She balks at the idea of owning a car ("It makes me lazy," she says) and, instead, begins each weekday with a 45-minute walk to the school where she teaches. She also takes spinning classes three times a week at the local YMCA. These activities help her to maintain a healthy body weight and keep her heart, muscles and bones strong.

"Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days can also reduce the risk of some forms of cancer and improve your health profile for other risks, such as diabetes," says Jill Barker, a lecturer in the departments of kinesiology and physical education at McGill University in Montreal.

But there's an added bonus to being physically active. An avid walker, cyclist and cross-country skier, Ghyslaine believed that exercise relieves stress and chases away the blues. It seems she was right. Physical activity is increasingly included in treatment plans for people with depression or anxiety.
Look out for No. 1
Happie Testa, 39, of Toronto, vividly remembers advice her mother, Nina, gave her years ago: You cannot take care of others if you don't take care of yourself. Those words really hit home three years ago, when Happie gave birth to her daughter, Stella. "If I'm tired or stressed, I lose my patience, and that's not fair to anyone, especially to my daughter," says Happie, a marketing and public relations executive.

Happie acknowledges that she needs to maintain an activity that is just for her – such as occasionally going out for dinner with a friend, or keeping up her volunteer work at  the Meta Foundation, an organization for children and adults with special needs. The benefit is renewed energy and enthusiasm for her family, her job and her life. "It's all about balance," she says. "You can't be selfish, but you can't be selfless either."

Taking care of herself means no longer striving for perfection. Happie hired a cleaning lady who comes in every other week; in between visits, she's learned to turn a blind eye to the dust bunnies. The payoff is more time to spend with her family without worrying about the housecleaning.

"A lot of us work ourselves into a busy state trying to meet our own idea of perfect," says Lindy Welsby, a life coach in Toronto. "We need to redefine what perfect means to us and make time for the things that bring joy to our lives."

We asked some friends and colleagues about their moms' words of health wisdom. Here's a sample.

From our staff
My mom always shunned the snack aisle at the grocery store, preferring instead to snack on fresh fruit and cheese. Sugared cereal and soft drinks were never available at our house. And pasta was something you cooked in a pot of boiling water, not poured out of a can. When I left home, I went on a huge binge, eating everything from Twinkies to canned ravioli, thinking how much smarter I was than my mother. But now, with rising obesity rates, concern over processed food and more research linking what we eat to our health, I think maybe she had it right.
Donna Paris, senior section editor, Home, Special Projects and New Initiatives

Eat breakfast. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Sit together to eat.
Elizabeth Baird, executive editor, Food

My grandma believes that getting a bit of shut-eye at midday (a siesta) refreshes the mind and body.
Sarah Jane Silva, researcher

"Get on it!" In other words, if you're bothered by something (bad mood, insomnia, aching knee, weird mole, sore throat) and the usual remedies don't work, get to the doctor ASAP. There's no point in worrying about it: at best, you're just upsetting yourself over nothing; at worst, you're wasting time that's better used getting help, taking medication or even seeing a specialist. After prevention, early detection is the best defence.
Austen Gilliland, senior copy editor

My mother always told me to eat real food.
Miriam Osborne, associate editor, Life

My mom's advice was to moisturize daily – but otherwise, to try not to go overboard with cosmetics. She says the secret to having great skin is to use the bare minimum of skin-care products and makeup.
Christina Anson Mine, managing editor

Page 2 of 3Mom's best advice from our friends
My mom taught me the importance of good, balanced nutrition. We had plenty of fresh vegetables and almost no processed or sugary foods. A healthy diet is something I'm now passing on to my daughter.
Lisa Bendall, Toronto

My mom rarely experienced common ailments such as headaches, colds or muscle stiffness. Whenever her peers succumbed to such things, one of her favourite comments was, "Nerves have a lot to do with it." These days we would call it stress. Her remedy was to stop wallowing in your problems and "get on with it." I agree that we can make ourselves sick by focusing too much on the negative and not tackling our day-to-day work with a good attitude. I've more than once told my own kids to stop whining and get on with it!
Joanne McGarry, Toronto

My mom always said yogurt was good for your intestines. In Holland, plain yogurt packaged in one-litre jugs is on everyone's table in the morning. For breakfast, my mom ate plain yogurt mixed with a high-fibre cereal or muesli, a tablespoon of flaxseed, and fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or apples. And that's what I do, too. Her other health wisdom: have fun and laugh every day. She liked to tell jokes and was always the life of the party.
Ylva Van Buuren, Picton, Ont.

My mother would line us all up every day in the winter and administer a teaspoon of cod liver oil down the line. This was back in the days when mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl either weren't on the radar or didn't exist. Turns out she was way ahead of the vitamin D curve (cod liver oil contains a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, plus vitamins D and A) and there's evidence it has a good effect on your bones, brain, heart, hair, nails and skin. Mostly, I remember it tasted really, really awful. I don't take cod liver oil today, but I do take vitamin D and am constantly urging my daughter to do the same.
Patricia Anderson, Toronto

My mom always said to try not to eat after 8 p.m. That may have been partly a personalized diet trick as well as health advice; I always suffered from indigestion and that was something she passed along to help out.
Lyndsie Bourgon, Halifax

My mom was a big fan of fighting colds with garlic. Garlic on toast, garlic in the soup... As a teenager I pooh-poohed it as some kind of witchery and rolled my eyes at the thought. Fast-forward to today, and when I have a cold, the first thing I reach for is garlic. I like to imagine it burning the cold germs away. I bet my kids are tired of me talking about it, but I know they'll probably come around, just like I did.
Andrea Tomkins, Ottawa

"Fish is brain food – eat it and you'll be smart." My kids and I eat fish and seafood at least twice a week. My mom's other words of wisdom:
• Don't add salt to any food that has been processed: it's already got too much salt.
• Trim every speck of fat off meat before you cook it.
• When it comes to leftovers – when in doubt, throw it out.
• Get eight hours of sleep every night (one hour of sleep in the afternoon is worth two hours of sleep at night).
• Stay out of the sun; it makes your skin leathery.
• Pat – never rub – your face dry.
• Apply moisturizer with your fourth finger; it's the weakest finger and therefore the gentlest on your face.
Jacquelyn Waller-Vintar, Toronto

"Get outside and get some fresh air!" Mom never let us stay inside for more than an hour at a time. I thought it was because she wanted peace and quiet – but even now, she spends every minute she can outside, in the garden, walking the dogs or playing with my kids.
Julie Beun-Chown, Carp, Ont.

This story was originally titled "Mother Knows Best" in the May 2009 issue.

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Prevention & Recovery

Health advice from Canadian mothers